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Trip Report A Month in India

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First off, I want to thank everyone on the forum who helped me with this trip, and also everyone who takes the time to post their Trip Reports which are always invaluable.

We planned the trip ourselves, but worked with V.P. Singh at Legends and Palaces on all the details. They booked our hotels, trains, and flights, arranged for a car and driver, and provided tour guides for all the major sites. We couldn't have been more pleased -- we usually travel completely independently but really appreciated the extra help on this trip. Everything went smoothly (which is saying something in India!).

This was our first trip to India, and we took just over a month -- October 19th to November 23rd. Here is an overview of our trip:

Delhi -- 3 nights at Amarya Haveli (very highly recommended)
Overnight train to Varanasi
Varanasi -- 3 nights at Rashmi Guesthouse (recommended for excellent location and helpful staff)
Flight to Khajuraho
Khajuraho -- 2 nights at Hotel Harmony (recommended as excellent budget hotel)
Orchha -- 3 nights at Bundelkhand Resort (recommended for ambience)
Train to Agra
Agra -- 2 nights at Ray of Maya
Jaipur -- 3 nights at Arya Niwas
Bundi -- Nai Havlei/Braj Bhushan (recommended for beautiful interiors)
Bhainsrorgarh -- 2 nights at Bhainsrorgarh Fort (very highly recommended)
Udaipur -- 4 nights at Jagat Niwas (highly recommended)
Narlai -- 2 nights at Rawla Narlai (very highly recommended)
Jojawar -- 2 nights at Rawla Jojawar
Jodhpur -- 2 nights at Ratan Villas (highly recommended)
Flight to Delhi
Delhi -- 3 nights at Amarya Haveli (very highly recommended)
Flight home

Couple comments on the schedule. People wonder whether to do Varanasi at the beginning or the end of the trip. We were very glad that we did Varanasi early on when we had more stamina -- and after Varanasi, we were ready for anything!

Regarding the length of our trip -- we did start to run down towards the end. Three weeks might be enough for a first time visit.

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    Delhi

    Some people say that the acronym India stands for “I’ll never do it again.” And we can understand why they might feel this way. India is messy – crowded, dirty, and frenetic. But it is also vibrant, colorful, and so different from anywhere we have ever been. On the one hand, India is a modern society, but on the other, it seems as if things haven’t changed much in hundreds of years. In India, so many people still wear traditional clothes (all the time) and continue to follow ancient traditions. It’s like we are in some kind of a time warp, and we are loving it – it’s even wilder and more unexpected than we thought.

    For this trip, we are using a Travel Company called “Legends and Palaces”. We will have a private tour with drivers and tour guides arranged by the owner, Mr. Singh. Mr. Singh had his contact waiting for us at the Delhi Airport after our 13 hour flight from Newark; Delhi airport is quite new and modern. Actually, we had three people waiting for us when we arrived: the spotter inside the airport, the assistant who met us as soon as we stepped outside, and our driver. Seems like a lot of individuals for two little travelers, but this is how they do it (everybody has his rice bowl, I guess). At least, we are being well-looked after by Mr. Singh.

    We are staying at a lovely hotel in a very quiet residential neighborhood called “Amarya Haveli”. The place has French owners (I was smitten immediately), and it has exceptional amenities. We have a large room on a quiet side of the building, an outside patio with table and chairs, great food (including made to order omelets and crepes for breakfast!), and a staff that goes out of their way to be friendly and helpful.

    We arrived late on the evening of the 21st in Delhi, the capital city of India, so we took it easy the next day to recover from the long flight. At least that was our plan. An artsy shopping village near some ancient temples was only a 20 minute walk away so we decided to stroll over. Who would ever guess how challenging a “short walk” could be.

    We walked along a main road that ran near our hotel; it was congested beyond belief with vehicles such as: cars, busses, 3-wheeled motorcycle-like devices (like the tuk-tuks of Thailand), tricycles, and bicycles -- all of them jammed together and not a single one of them in their own lane. Sometimes, It was hard to decipher what was going on; and then to confuse the eye even further, Indians drive (are supposed to drive) on the left side of the road. It was total chaos out there.

    We were also accosted by beggars everywhere. A little beggar girl walked up to us and motioned that she needed food, and then looked at us pathetically, as she rubbed her stomach in gestures of small circular motions, as tho she were starving. We watched some young entrepreneurs operate their clothes ironing business right there along the street under a tent-like covering supported by makeshift bamboo poles, and cracked up to see a barber set up under a tree with a single chair on a median strip – cutting hair as traffic whizzed blindly by. Talk about low overhead. All his “barber shop” had out there on that dirt patch alongside the busy highway was a stool, a mirror on a small table, a pair of scissors, and a towel conveniently draped over the low-slung electrical wires hanging above his head.

    Our goal, the Hauz Khas Village, was worth the trouble, and actually our little jaunt was a great introduction to India. The walk itself was the best part, but the temples (and the locals hanging out there) were fascinating, and I got a taste of the fantastic shopping in store for me.

    That night, Mr. Singh took us out to dinner where we got into some amazing discussions. We talked about the history of India, and the politics here, but we were most interested to learn more about the religions of India, and his religion as a Sikh. Since religion integrates itself so deeply into the Indian life and economy, we thought it important to understand some of the basics.

    Mr. Singh wears an immaculately folded turban over his head at all times in public, and with his bearded face, he can be instantly spotted from a long distance away. Later, we found out that many of these turbans are merely glorified hats, and can be slipped on already pre-folded. Sikhs are immediately recognizable because all the men wear the recognizable sleek turban. The Sikhs are an offshoot of the Hindus, and were originally formed as a group of warriors to fight the Muslims. Today, they are a totally separate religion with a more open outlook than the Hindus.

    A couple other interesting tidbits: Hinduism is one religion that you cannot convert to – you must be born a Hindu or have a family history of having been Hindu at one time. The caste system and dowries are now illegal in India although both continue in some forms. He told us that marrying outside your caste is possible but hardly ever done. In theory, the Untouchables (the lowest caste) have the same opportunities as anyone else, but the economic reality is that a higher caste child is much more likely to get a good education, and have the career he chooses, rather than the one he would be forced to otherwise accept.

    The following day, Mr. Singh along with our driver Anil took us out to see the sights of Delhi. We began our tour in Old Delhi on the main shopping street called “Chandni Chowk”. Now this was the India we had come to see. We took a rickshaw ride and our heads were spinning around trying to take in all the frenetic and strange new sights. The street was a menagerie of small ramshackle shops, most with goods or deliveries heaped out on the sidewalks: nuts, spices, material to sew saris, posters of Hindu gods, woks with strange foods a-cooking, etc. Overhead electrical wiring was a rats-nest of code violations, and tracing any one wire to its source or destination would be a magic trick for Houdini.

    The sidewalks were teeming with shoppers (Hindu women in flashy- colored saris), carpenters and painters (squatting on the corner waiting for work), deliveries arriving via bicycle (we saw one cyclist carrying 2 huge Sanyo 50-inch (?) TV boxes, some crates stacked quite high in carts pulled by oxen, plus several delivery men carrying about 50 boxes of shoes on their heads! (You can’t make this stuff up.) And all this activity was whirling around a street clogged with more people and vehicles of all types than you can possibly imagine. We were worn out just trying to take it all in (as you are probably exhausted just reading about it LOL)

    Other highlights included: New Delhi which has a totally different feel and look to it; that’s because this is British Delhi with the President’s Palace, government buildings (where monkeys break in and destroy documents – no kidding, this is a serious problem), and the India Gate – a huge structure (like an oversized Arc de Triomphe) which was built to impress the Indians with the might of the British Empire.

    And a visit to a Sikh Temple – we had to enter barefooted, and I had to cover my head with a scarf, but other than that, we could wander all around and take pictures anywhere we liked. This was quite an unusual experience surrounded by men wearing turbans accompanied by the strangest guttural-sounding hymns played to a bongo beat. And yet, it still had a mystical feeling to it.

    On our last day in Delhi, we visited Qtub Minar, home of the first mosque erected in India and an incredibly beautiful 12th c. tower 73 m. high -- another attempt to impress the subjugated, this time built by the conquering Muslims. The tower’s 5 Babel-like stories soar into the sky decorated in graceful Persian writings and encircled by several almost frilly balconies.

    The site also holds a strange iron pillar that is even older than the tower and has scientists baffled as to how ancient technology could have produced iron so pure that it has never rusted in over 2,000 years. The technology to prevent rusting did not exist 2000 years ago; or did it?

    This stop also gave us a chance to observe a number of Muslims, men starkly identifiable by white tunics, pants and skull caps, and the women they accompanied, always wearing full-length black burkas. Who knows how these women can stand to be totally shrouded in black garb which would only serve to amplify the heat by nature of its heat-absorbing color. Here in India, you can sure tell a lot about a person just by their clothing.

    Our next stop was one of our favorites: Gandhi Smriti (the Ghandi memorial). This site includes a museum filled with photos, descriptions of Gandhi’s life, and many profound quotes from this amazing man. He lived here during the last 144 days of his life, and his room is just as he left it: sparsely furnished with a mattress on the floor, a small table, and his spinning machine. His walking stick leans against the wall with two pairs of sandals. A glass display case shows his meager possessions at the time of his death: eyeglasses, a watch, and a few pieces of silverware.

    Outside, a monument commemorates his last steps on a pathway with raised footprints that leads to the place where he was murdered. The site is a fitting tribute -- simple but powerfully moving.

    We left Delhi on an overnight train to Varanasi, and I will cover that part of the trip in our Varanasi report. But, I wanted to leave you with this incredible event at the New Delhi Train station. Our driver pulled into the parking lot, and a man in a red shirt ran over to get our bags. He placed a coiled rope-like cloth on his head which seemed odd to us, but what happened next defies description.

    He grabbed my 30 lb. L.L. Bean bag and flipped it up on his head. Then with an assist from our tour guide Dilip, the porter added my husband’s 38 lb. L.L. Bean on top of my bag! Yes, with almost 70 pounds of unbalanced baggage on his head, this “porter” scooted across the parking lot so quickly towards the train station that we had to chase after him, just to keep up with his pace. He walked up (and down) 2 stories of steps, and delivered our bags to the inside of our sleeping car without ever dropping a single bag. We were stunned, to say the least. My husband kept saying, “This is impossible.” Our guide Dilip just smiled and said, “In India, all things are possible!”

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    Marija -- We had a very relaxed stay in Orchha -- it's a nice town, and it was a good place for some down time (we are Slow Travel types). Let's see, we arrived In Orchha late on the first day, so we did nothing other than check out the grounds of the Bundelkhand and eat dinner.

    The next day we did a half-day tour of the Palaces -- really enjoyed the stunning arichitecture -- and also saw the chattries. Spent the afternoon relaxing and taking a swim in the pool. We had an excellent meal at the Betwa Retreat Restaurant -- great Aloo Mutter.

    On the second day, we made a half-day trip out to a small village called Aajadbura, an example of a government town with government-provided housing in an attempt to help the rural poor. We also spent some time at the market in town and in an internet cafe (took awhile since the server was up and down). And we got to see the chattries at sunset from the other side of the river -- beautiful.

    You could certainly do Orchha in 2 nights, but for us, it was a nice respite.

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    That bags on the head routine is incredible. What really scared me is that the guy also grabbed my carryon with a computer and our cameras. He didn't drop anything but then I couldn't get a photo either. Thanks for writing about your trip. (Sorry about the Orchha question. I didn't realize you were continuing.)

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    What a great start. I'm glad you enjoyed the Bundelkhand Resort. While the grounds were lovely, we were turned off by the mothballs in the sink and the musty smell in the room. Our AC hardly worked and we decided to leave after one night.

    Can't wait to read more.

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    dgunbug -- The mothballs in the sink were kind of disgusting -- not sure what the deal is with that, but we came across it somewhere else also. My husband had some problems with the Bundelkhand bathroom in general, but at least our A/C worked well.

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    Varanasi: Holy City of Chaos

    Last time we left you, we were boarding the overnight train from Delhi to Varanasi. We wanted to book a first class cabin, possibly even one for just us, but we ended up with the next class down in a shared, open compartment (no door, just a curtain separating us from the aisle) with a young Indian couple. And, we had the upper berths which required a gymnastic climb that rewarded us with a thinly padded bunk bed and a tiny sleeping space in which to maneuver. I got almost no sleep in this uncomfortable setting, and my husband was too damn tired to care. It may be time to give up the overnight train idea, at least in third world countries.

    However, in the morning, we had a great conversation with the Indian couple on the other side of the main aisle that helped to offset the discomfort. Of course, the gent was an engineer like my husband, so this lead to instant bonding between the two. Spending some time with local people was the main reason we wanted to take the train.

    By the way, practically everyone speaks English here. The accents sometimes make it hard to decipher, but it is English. In fact, my husband has been unable to learn much Hindi since nobody speaks it to us. He asked a waiter at our last hotel how to say something in Hindi, and the man was silent for a moment and then said, “I have been working here for six years and always speaking English that now I forget my Hindi!” Yes, even a Hindi speaking Indian couldn’t provide an answer for us, as he’d forgotten how to say it.

    Our handler was waiting for us at the train station in Varanasi (Varanasi is inexplicably called Benares here in India), and he immediately took off at a remarkable pace through the train station with us in tow. Boy, do these Indians move fast! We stumbled along behind terrified of losing him in the crowds.

    We are staying at the Rashmi Guesthouse in the Old City. We will talk more about the traffic, crowds etc. later, but the Old City makes Delhi’s busy shopping street Chandni Chowk (that we talked about in the last report) look like a walk in the park. Our hotel is located on a precipice directly overlooking the Ganges, which places us right in the middle of the action. The room is tiny, but the bed is big and comfortable, and the air conditioning is powerful (but it is so loud that I feels as if I am sleeping on the assembly line of some heavy machinery factory!). The hotel also has an excellent rooftop restaurant where we ate breakfast every morning and also had dinner twice.

    By the way, the air conditioning in each hotel room in this country does more than just the obvious cooling; it is great protection from the marauding mosquitoes that will inevitably swoop down on you at night and have a feast. It is good to keep the a/c in operation all night for protection against the flying insects that want a bite out of you.

    Varanasi is one of the oldest inhabited cities on earth, and believe me, in many ways not much has changed since its inception. It is considered India’s holiest city, a place that all Hindus hope to see before they die. In fact, many come here with the hope that they will die here. The city has a population of 3 million people with an added influx of 25,000 pilgrims and 1,000 foreign tourists per day.

    On our first night, we met our Varanasi guide who called himself “Singh”, and he walked us down the steep stone steps, called “ghats” to the Ganges, the most holy river. By the way, this river is horribly polluted – our Lonely Planet guidebook said to avoid getting even a sprinkle on us! At first, we thought Singh was a real nonstarter – initially, he was not much of a communicator. But my husband worked his magic, and soon Singh was sharing all kinds of cynical insights and philosophy. We really came to appreciate his unabashed frankness and his dry sense of humor.

    The plan for this evening was to take a wooden boat ride out on the waters of the Ganges, and then attend the celebration of the 7 Brahmin priests called “Ganga Aarti”. For some reason, Singh chose an older man to row our decrepit boat – this guy must be the worst rower on the Ganges, can’t tell you how many other boats he bumped into (or nearly collided with). We really thought we might be taking an unintended dip in the Ganges ourselves!

    We rode down to the main cremation ghat called “Manikarnika” where the flames of the cremations along the river’s edge flared in the darkness. Singh explained that the body is burned as soon after death as possible. Family members and friends maintain a vigil on the steps for the 3-½ hrs. (roughly) that it takes for the cremation to be completed.

    The process is simple: the body is draped in colorful white & gold material and placed on a stack of wood. Another layer of wood is placed on the top of the body and then they add ghee (clarified butter) to cover the body, and make it burn well. The composition of the wood is very important – sandalwood is a key component since it masks the smell of the burning flesh. Afterwards, the ashes are dumped into the Ganges. Singh told us that so much wood was being used for cremations, the countryside is slowly becoming deforested.

    Although most of the bodies cremated here are people from Varanasi, some have their bodies shipped here just to be disposed of in this auspicious place. Sickly and dying people often come here and stay in guesthouses just waiting to die.

    Singh pointed out a man standing in the Ganges with water up to his waist in front of the cremation ghat. The man was holding a basket of wet ashes that he was sifting thru, looking for something. Singh said that the man’s wife had probably died and he was searching through her ashes to retrieve valuables; i.e., the jewel that she would have worn in her nose, her toe ring, and/or other piercings. The line between the pious and the practical is very thin here.

    Singh also told us that wives no longer jump on their husband’s funeral pyres – in fact, it is a crime to do so. Singh said that, in the past, most of the wives did not go voluntarily to their fiery demise, but were pushed onto the pyre by family members (who probably did not want to have to support a surviving widow), and who actually blamed the wife for their husband’s death. (Don’t you love the way it is always the woman’s fault?)

    Being a woman in India can still be dangerous in spite of attempts to be more enlightened. I have been reading the English language newspaper “The Hindustan Times,” a daily news rag about life in India. A one-paragraph article described the death of a woman in one of the villages. She was a married woman who had eloped with a man of the Untouchable Caste. As the article states: “Her neighbors beat her to death, hung her body from a tree, and burnt her.” The article made no mention of any arrests or charges to be made.

    After the cremation ghat, we watched the nightly “ganga aarti” ceremony on the largest ghat, one with a large platform area perfect for the performance. Seven young Brahmin priests waved around flaming candelabras (what is it with these people and fire?) welcoming the god Shiva, while a chorus of the faithful danced and maintained a chanting rhythm in the background.

    The next morning, we rejoined Singh on the ghats for a morning boat ride to see the sun rise on the Ganges. This was an even better experience than the ride on the river the night before. We had high hopes for a younger, more able rower, but Singh is a loyal guy and soon we were bumping our way up the river with the worst rower on the Ganges once again – the same old man we had last night!

    The ghats were overflowing with the faithful preparing to greet the sun. Varanasi faces toward the east by design so that the rising sun can purify the people of the city each day. Women wade into the waters fully dressed while the men strip down to just a loin cloth (and sometimes nothing at all). Some people dive in while others use a cup to pour the river water over their heads.

    People also come to the river for morning bathing; we observed one old woman industriously brushing her teeth with her finger. The characters along the river are simply mind-boggling: thousands descending into the waters, cross-legged people meditating on the steps, religious types smearing themselves with ashes as they greet the day, Brahmin priests sitting in front of the temples protected by large, mushroom-like umbrellas, and laundry boys washing clothes in the filthy water. (We are definitely sticking with hand washing in our hotel sink while we are here.)

    My husband spotted one of the coolest things – boys throwing strings out into the river as if they were casting a line for fishing (We knew that couldn’t be it because God knows nothing could live in this fetid water!) Turns out, the string has a magnet on the end, and the boys are “fishing” for the steel coins that the pilgrims toss into the Ganges for good luck. As my husband says, “Even the Hindus are capitalists at heart!”

    And the noise from the ghats – this is not some somber, respectful affair. The air clatters with an incredible cacophony of racket. Every pilgrim who enters one of the temples along the ghats rings a bell, believing that the vibration of the bell will send their wish to the gods. (Singh said the gods must be very busy trying to sort out which of all these wishes to honor!) At any rate, bells clang non-stop from every direction.

    Soon the sun rises like a perfect red ball across the hazy, smoggy expanse of the Ganges, and the people of Varanasi proceed on their merry way to do the chores of daily life. And tomorrow, this whole rigmarole will repeat itself as it has day after day for thousands of years.

    We retreated to our hotel to eat breakfast (and to try to process this whole overwhelming assault on our senses). Then, Singh took us on a city tour. A walk thru the dark, narrow alleyways of the Old City is just as mesmerizing as the ghats. This is where residents live and work in dank hovels made of stone. Shops offer all kinds of trinkets including small statues of Shiva and other Hindu deities – as Singh sarcastically says, “Gods for sale.”

    Everything is dark and dirty – you have to watch where you step at all times because the sacred cows roam freely through here and leave their deposits everywhere. And you also have to listen for the motorcycles that careen through streets that are only wide enough for a couple of pedestrians.
    The main shopping street is even crazier with a mass of humanity like none we have ever seen.

    It just so happens that we are here in Varanasi on the infamous Indian holiday called “Diwali”, the festival of lights. It is also one of the biggest shopping days of the year. The street is packed with Hindu women in their finest silk garments and holiday saris, haggard pilgrims dressed in sackcloth leaning on wooden walking staffs looking like Old Testament prophets (it feels like the set of a Hollywood Biblical epic movie, but this is REAL), and beggars of all description, some with hideous deformities.

    As we crossed the main street, a leper with bulbous lumps all over her face and neck startles me by grabbing my arm and begging for some money. Meanwhile, another beggar lady with an infant child suckling on her breast puts her hand out to my husband for money, and utters something in Hindi in a most pathetic way. We are heartbroken for these indigent, but the government requests that you give nothing to the beggars because it will only incite more begging.

    We literally dive into our waiting vehicle, a classic Hindustan model called the Ambassador, and drive away from the craziness of the Old City. We visit one of the famous universities – Singh says, “Varanasi is about learning and burning.” And then we drive to the Durga Temple, a blood red temple where animal sacrifices were performed not long ago (now banned). The temple honors Durga, the consort of Shiva.

    Hindus worship hundreds of gods and each one has dozens of names (Shiva is known by 1008 alternate names) and is recognized by specific accoutrements making it absurdly confusing. Just to give you a taste: Shiva carries a trident, rides on a bull and sits on a tiger skin to get re-energized by the tiger’s power (Singh says it’s like recharging a cell phone!). Hinduism seems to be a remarkably flexible religion. According to Singh, Hinduism is a very personal religion with no hard and fast rules – you decide which parts of it you want to follow (or not).

    Diwali is sort of like Christmas and New Year’s Eve rolled into one. It is the biggest celebration on the Indian calendar. On the night before Diwali, firecrackers were exploding all over the city. On Diwali day, everything is decorated with orange marigolds (our hotel lobby was covered with them) and small clay pots filled with oil to provide a small flickering light in every doorway. Our hotel had no “live” clay pots – instead they had a string of miniature Christmas-like lights sitting in plastic pots. Modern technology! On the night of Diwali, the sky was filled with fireworks going off all over the city.

    Singh described another aspect of Diwali. He said people make a wish for wealth on Diwali and many spend the holiday gambling for that wealth, some even end up bankrupted. In fact, the Hindu word for bankrupt is diwala! So, the Hindu people often say that “Diwali turns to diwala”.

    There are so many simple issues in this country that make daily life more difficult than it has to be. This is a society that thrives on tips for survival. Everybody wants to be tipped for services rendered, and even for services not rendered (it seems). Problem is, from our prospective, there is a fine line between “extra services rendered”, and “just doing your job.” We have come to the conclusion, that after many days in India, we still don’t know squat about who gets tipped and who doesn’t.

    When you stay at a hotel, everyone seems to want to be your friend; and, when you leave the hotel, you can just bet that everybody who even smiled at you will be standing around conveniently available to be handed some money. Everyone seems to have their hands out even when they do nothing. In one instance, my husband failed to tip an old villager man who just happened to walk up to us (who we still feel did not deserve to be tipped), and he became irate as we exited his airspace; he walked with us saying stuff in Hindi that we did not understand, but his body language was clearly hostile and his less than friendly demeanor spoke volumes. So, who do you tip, as well as how much? It’s really something we need to explore, and perhaps when this trip is done, we can give you a better ‘tip’ on tips. Or not.

    Many of our friends were leery about us making this trip. One of them sent us this comment (that we absolutely love), regarding our last report. He said, “I think you could visit hell and make it sound like heaven.” I guess it’s all a matter of perspective!

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    Outstanding report, Magster. Love the cultural observations and the description in general. So...if you had to edit your trip down to three weeks, what would you have left out?

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    crosscheck -- That's the tough part! I really enjoyed all of it, but if I had to pare it down, I would probably fly to Varanasi (instead of taking the overnight train), shave a day off Jaipur, Orchha, and Udaipur, and eliminate Jojawar.

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    Love your report. We were at Rashmi Guest house last year and it is the best spot in Varanasi as far as I can tell.
    I know what you mean about tipping. It blew my budget all to hell, I did not expect to have to tip as many as I did. We also stayed at Jagat Niwas in Udaipur, another favorite of ours.

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    Oh this is such a great report!! thank you!!

    LOL abut why Singh chose the old man to row the old boat. I'm surprised he didnt say it is his cousin..or uncle..or grandfather

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    CaliNurse -- I am sure you are right about the old man rower -- gotta be a relative!! And I like your theory about the mothballs being used to keep out the ants. I had an awful feeling (that I had to work to suppress) that it might be to keep out snakes - ugh!

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    Khajuraho – Making Friends among the Erotic Temples

    We left Varanasi on a short (45 min.) Jet Airways flight. Of course, the airport was confusing but luckily our handler, Hareesh, gave my husband a good tutorial on airport procedure in this country. Interestingly enough, the Hindu security system forms 2 separate lines, one for the guys, and one for the girls (women get a curtained “booth” for their pat down). Yep, just like back when you were still in grade school, they keep the sexes apart. The flight however, was comfortable and pleasant.

    The town of Khajuraho with a population of about 20,000 is a refreshing change from Varanasi. Altho a busy place too, it is by comparison a sleepy, small town out in rural India -- sellers and touts are still waiting for us every time we step out of the hotel, but they give up quickly because we have now learned a few choice Hindi words, like “nay-hee, soonia” which means “no, excuse me”, or, if you want to be a little more emphatic, “pagal”, which means “get lost”.

    We settled into our new place, a nice cheapie hotel with surprisingly large rooms called the Hotel Harmony. (Even in this budget hotel, all the floors are made of the most gorgeous marble and granite.) Then, we headed for Khajuraho’s reason for being: the ancient temples with their Kama Sutra-inspired carvings.

    Our latest guide, Anu is a University-educated art historian with a good sense of humor. We began at the Western Group of temples and immediately saw cone-shaped temples that reminded us of Angkor Wat, the famous temples of Cambodia. Anu agreed with the comparison but proudly told us that these temples are 300 hundred years older than Angkor! Just like Angkor, these temples were totally covered by the jungle vegetation and were only rediscovered accidentally in the mid-1800’s by a Brit named T.S. Burt doing a geographically survey in the area.

    The temples were built during a time of religious upheaval when newer religions like Buddhism were competing with Hinduism. The new religions were highly spiritual, seeking a pure existence free of material things. This was confusing to the Hindus who are pretty much good time boys and girls who thoroughly enjoy the physical world. The Hindu book known as the “Kama Sutra” was written specifically to glorify sex as an essential part of life and an integral part of the Hindu religion. These temples are covered with carvings of Kama Sutra positions for the purpose of celebrating the physical side of love.

    Anu happily pointed out the interesting sex positions and associated contortions, as well as the erotic highlights of these statuettes, often supplying his own names to the positions, like one he called “The Quickie.” He also warned us with a wink not to “try this at home.” Beyond the obvious eroticism, the sculptures are amazingly lifelike with a grace and movement way ahead of its time (and more skilled than the carvings at Angkor). Some of these sculptures could rival Michelangelo’s works for their detailed knowledge of human anatomy.

    My favorite was a beautiful sculpture of a woman holding up her foot to remove a thorn in her heel – the accurate depiction of her twisted form was truly remarkable. (I would describe my husband’s favorite sculpture, but this trip report is G-ated. Let’s just say it involved some serious gymnastic ability and fell into the “do not try this at home” category.)

    But even more than a portrayal of interesting sexual positions, these statues provide a kind of Rosetta stone which storyboards facets of life at that time (circa 1000 AD), depicting musical instruments, domesticated animals as well as mythical creatures, gods and goddesses, warriors and their weapons, daily dress and hairdos, and the simple tools of the day.

    Next, we visited the Eastern Group of temples which were built by a group called the Jains. The Jains are an unusual religious group unique to India, one of those newer religions like Buddhism. Jainism began about 2600 years ago, and it exists only here and has never spread to any other country.

    These folks are known for their strict regimentation, their repudiation of the material world, and for an extreme respect for all forms of life. The most devout Jain monks even gave up wearing clothing – they would walk around naked wearing only a mask over their mouths to prevent accidentally inhaling (and thus killing) an insect. The sculptures here are not erotic, but focus on everyday life. They include many sculptures that look just like the Buddha except that the Jain statues have a diamond carved in the middle of the chest.

    That night, we attended a delightful light-hearted dance performance at the Kandariya Art & Culture Center. These events tend to be very touristy, but like tonight, sometimes they can be quite good. This was a spirited performance of traditional Indian folk dances by an energetic and earnest group of svelte young dancers. The costumes were extremely colorful, and the lively music has clearly inspired Bollywood!

    The following day we rode to Raneh Falls in an open jeep. The falls were a bit disappointing because much of the water had been diverted for irrigation, but the variety of rock (granite, jasper, basalt, quartz) contrasted with the green water of the lake created a picturesque spot.

    We also went on “safari” through the surrounding jungle where we saw peacocks (India’s national bird), Languor monkeys, antelopes, and spotted deer. We had hoped to see crocodiles, but no luck there. (My poor husband still hasn’t recovered from the disappointment of not seeing crocodiles in the wild when we were in the Daintree Rainforest in Australia 6 years ago. Looks like India will not be much better.)

    What made the jaunt in the jeep most fun was having an unobstructed view of the villages that we passed through as we traveled to and from the falls. We even stopped at one village home where a young woman churned goat’s milk for us providing a demo of how to make butter, and then showed us her primitive outside kitchen where she sat on the dirt floor and tended to a few pots that were brewing unknown foods over a small open fire.

    As we drove by, we got a terrific view of village life and lots of friendly waves and “hallos” from the locals. By the way, you have to picture my husband standing up in the back of this jeep, holding onto the roll bar, taking pictures, and waving to the locals – it was like “return of the Maharajah!”

    Back in town, we decided to brave the touts and go for a walk. I found some great souvenirs and my husband did some fun dickering with the street vendors. Then, we ran into a young Hindu couple we had met yesterday at the temples. Jyote and Uddam Das were very sweet young newlyweds – we think they are enamored of all things American and that’s why they really took a liking to us. They wanted to buy us something to eat from one of the vendors along the dusty main drag, but I got nauseous just looking at the street food (and the cooking methods and utensils used).

    We finally settled on a fresh juice stand. I still had visions of spending the night on the toilet dancing through myr head, but we just couldn’t insult these nice people who only wanted to be friendly. Luckily, we had no repercussions from the juice.

    One odd thing was when Jyote and Uddam showed us all the jewelry they were wearing and told us the price they paid for each piece. I had read that rather than deposit money in the bank, Indians will invest in gold jewelry, and wear it. These kids were obviously quite proud of their gold acquisitions, so I guess this whole gold discussion was like taking a look at their stock portfolio!

    We exchanged email addresses with our new friends, and for some reason, they give us a ton of contact information: 3 or 4 email addresses each, along with an assortment of cell phone numbers. They seemed stunned when we told them we don’t have a cell phone.

    A word about the food: Stomach ailments are quite common for travelers in India, and we have to be very careful. We obviously cannot drink the water, so we use bottled water for almost everything including brushing our teeth. We also clean all of our silverware using beer, hot tea, or some strong booze from the flask of 100 proof whiskey that my husband brought along just for this purpose.

    We are also eating mostly vegetarian food with some chicken. My husband loves the spicy hot foods and soups, and the fabulous unleavened breads, but it could create some embarrassing situations if you consume too much of their spices. I am a big fan of paneer, a solid cottage cheese that is cut into cubical chunks (looks like tofu) and served with various vegetable sauces.

    For the most part, we have been eating at our hotels and that works out well – their food is pretty safe and convenient too. In Varanasi, we ate dinner at a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant called The Brown Bread restaurant. What an experience. The restaurant was in the Old City, so it looked like a real dump on the outside – a typical Varanasi hovel-type place carved from stone with a narrow stairway to the 2nd floor.

    The restaurant was designed with raised up stone cubicles where patrons sat on a thin mattress at a low table using cushions to support their backs – sort of “sultan” style. The ambience was further enhanced by an old man with flowing white hair playing the sitar alongside a bongo player. I thought it was romantic (like eating in the Kasbah), and I could easily picture the expats of the 60’s hanging out in a place like this. My husband thought the seating horribly uncomfortable and impractical, and was very leery of the overall food sanitation. Surprisingly, the food was fabulous, and nobody had repercussions.

    Another challenge here in India has to do with the plumbing in the bathrooms. Hotel Harmony is a good example. As my husband says, “Nobody seems to know how to make a decent bathroom in this country!” (Of course, he has said this about Europe, and just about every country we have ever visited!)

    The Hotel Harmony bathtub shower kluge of spigots and water delivery devices looked like a control panel on some kind of primitive Flash Gordon space craft. It had five knobs with which to play around with to somehow make the water flow, two faucets, and one showerhead. In order to take a shower, you had to turn on the two lower knobs, one for hot and one for cold, which caused water to flow out of the two faucets. Once you had what seemed like a good balance between hot and cold water, you moved on to the upper dials which activated the showerhead, adjusting these dials between hot and cold also.

    By the way, this whole operation is conducted as you stand perched on a ledge on the side of the bathtub (to avoid being either scalded or frozen when the water comes on suddenly). And of course, after you finish your shower, you have to reverse the whole process. Additionally, there are all sorts of unexplained water valves all around the bathroom that don’t seem to do anything. And lots of spigots protruding from the walls at ankle height that are easy to trip on if you are not watching your step. Thank God, my husband, the engineer, sorted this all out – otherwise I would have been taking a sponge bath at the sink LOL!

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    i did not find the tipping to be all that much trouble... i always keep plenty of 10 Rs notes in my pocket and some coins as well... one of these does not break the bank, and even 50 in a day is not that much... if the receiver was not happy with 10, i just kept walking and ignored their plea...

    you write so beautifully that i am really loving my read. my report reads more like a 4th grade assignment.. your descriptions enhance my observations, so thanks for that...

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    Loving your report. You are filling in the blanks in my memory as I read. For me being gone 6 weeks thoughts/ impressions merge into a blur at times. It is good to help sort them out. Looking forward to more.

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    Orchha – Land of the Maharajahs

    Another thing about India: no one likes to give you bad news (so they tend to overstate things or leave out parts of the story). We were told that the drive from our town of Khajuraho to Orchha would be about 4 hours, but in actuality, the ride took 7 grueling hours (with two stops). The distance was only 180 km (about 115 miles), but the roads were the worst we have seen yet. For most of the way, we drove on a single lane road that both directions of traffic had to share. When 2 cars were coming at each other, one or both often had to give way by pulling over to the ditch side of the road.

    Tuk-tuks, cars, people, and every conceivable bicycle contraption was attempting to use the road surface, often so pockmarked and potholed that it was almost undriveable. For those of you who ski, the road was the equivalent of a ski trail full of moguls! Every once in a while, we hit a relatively smooth stretch of macadam, but for the most part we bumped along at 10 miles an hour, dodging every obstacle on the road (including cows, goats and water buffalo), veering around treacherous road craters, and playing a constant game of chicken with oncoming traffic as every vehicle vied for the “best” section of roadway.

    The situation would be confounding to all but the most intrepid; one broken car axle or tie rod would leave us stranded for days. Needless to say, it was a long, bumpy, dusty day, but the sights along the way kept us fully entertained. Never a dull moment with cows and goats all over the roads, tuk-tuks filled to overflowing (the legal limit is 4 people but we saw overloaded tuk-tuks with a dozen or more passengers including young guys hanging on the back and sides), delivery trucks painted with the most colorful designs (almost like circus cars), motorcycles carrying as many as 4 passengers at a time, and buses of Diwali revelers blaring the loudest and strangest sing-songy horns we ever heard. And that was just the activity ON the road.

    Our journey took us through tiny villages and larger towns all teeming with people wandering around the markets, getting haircuts on stools in dusty parking lots, good old village boys drinking at the local café, etc. We even saw our first elephant – “parked” in front of a school. We never get tired of all this fascinating action.

    We made two stops along the way: one stop to stretch our legs at a so-so museum of Hindu statues and a second stop to eat lunch. Both the museum and the restaurant were located in palaces formerly owned by Maharajahs.

    These Maharajahs lived like kings, reigning over large tracts of land out here in the countryside. The architecture of these palaces is wonderful with lots of arches, fancy balconies, and minaret-like turrets. On the surrounding hillsides, we could see the ruins of forts and hunting lodges that were once part of one Maharajah’s huge estate.

    Descendants of the Maharajah still own (and sometimes live in) these palaces often operating them as hotels. But they have no real power anymore and no political influence (unless elected to a specific political post).

    We arrived in Orchha (at last!) and rolled down a long unpaved lane to the Bundelkhand Riverside Resort Hotel located along the scenic and sacred Betwa River -- a refreshingly tranquil walled estate with gardens and colorful flowers everywhere. In keeping with the Maharajah theme of this part of the trip, our hotel was once owned by another Maharajah. We have a huge room, actually a bedroom and sitting room, all furnished with antiques. The bathroom has more than a few quirks, but the ambience is well worth some minor inconvenience.

    The highlight of our time here was our tour of the palaces of Orchha with our latest guide, Hemant Singh. Hemant gave us a fun tour, and playfully called us Maharajah and Maharani. But all kidding aside, these Maharajahs and Maharanis sure knew how to enjoy a rich regal lifestyle. They were king and queen on a small regional scale. When the royal pair would make a grand entrance into their palace, servants would lean out of an opening high above the main arch to drop flower petals over their heads. Then, the Maharani would spend her day being gently pushed on a swing while the Maharajah went out hunting tigers. The palaces are a fascinating mix of Islamic and Hindu architecture because during this time period, the two religions coexisted quite comfortably.

    The following day, Hemant took us to a small government village where the homes and the public school have been provided by the government in an attempt to improve the lot of the poor rural people. We visited a school here, and got a warm welcome from the friendly young students. We also got a really close-up look at village life: cow patties drying in the sun (used as fuel for cooking), and we even got to watch a guy hosing down his water buffalo! Later, we took a stroll through Orchha’s market for some good souvenir shopping. I even got my palm and arm stamped with various designs (hopefully, the vendor was telling the truth when he said it would wash off!)

    One of the many things we find hard to understand here is customer service. In general, the hotel staff mean well (or maybe just mean to get a good tip), but they can really drive us crazy. We know that we are constantly being observed, and lots of times, they follow us around (or as my husband often says, “they track us like a bad fart!”).

    Sometimes, with our guides, it is hard to pin down details like the daily schedule (which keeps changing). They can even be a bit dishonest or vague, or language-challenged at a convenient time. For example, the day we were scheduled to visit the small village, our guide Hemant arrived late and announced, “We have problem. No car for you today.” This was “interesting” since we had discussed this just the day before, and our itinerary clearly stated that we had a car at our disposal today. So, we pulled out our master schedule (the revered “programme”) to show Hemant. He made a few calls and guess what? “Car is coming!”

    While we were waiting for that car, talk of a game of cricket began circulating. My husband had never played cricket before, but a cricket bat and ball suddenly materialized and Hemant invited my husband out into the quadrangle for some cricket playing.

    He did himself proud, hitting one pitch after another. He even hit one so far “out of the park” that it disappeared into the vegetation. No problem, one of the staff quickly found another ball. By the way, the staff (and a group of Indian guests) loved watching my husband, the white-faced foreigner, play cricket – he became quite the star of the Bundelkhand Hotel that day, and “the boys” who work here talked about the cricket match for the rest of our stay.

    Interestingly, we never see any cats here. In other countries such as in Europe, cats run stray everywhere, but cats don’t seem to exist in this part of the world, or, if they do, we haven’t seen them. We don’t think the Indians eat cats, as we’ve never heard talk of such, and we’ve never seen them on any menu. My husband has a theory that the monkeys may prey on the cats (?)

    We had a late check out on our last day, so we decided to indulge in a special Indian treat: the “ayurvedic head massage.” We were each shown to separate hotel rooms where our masseuses were waiting for us. (Masseuses here in India are always assigned this way: a woman for women and a man for men – to avoid any man/woman “problems.”) The head massage was quite a workout for our skulls and heavy on good smelling Indian oils. The final oil had a strong peppermint scent, leaving us thoroughly mentholated (& anxious for a good shower)!

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    Funny that my husband and I also questioned why there were no cats. I seem to remember that we were told that some people keep them as house pets, but don't quote me on that.

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    Agra – Home of the Most Beautiful Building in the World

    We caught a late afternoon express train for Agra. This train experience was much better than our overnight trip but still pretty rough around the edges. Unbelievably, they kept plying us with food during the relatively short trip (2 ½ hours): snacks, sandwiches, hot tea etc. Most of which we didn’t eat – if you think U.S. train/plane food is bad, wow!! You are in for a real treat here.....

    Train stations in India are real horror shows, with overcrowded platforms of travelers, beggars, and people lying around sleeping on the concrete floors. Luckily, we had a handler to make sure we got on the right train in all this mess. We consider ourselves “train experts” in any other part of the world but wouldn’t attempt it on our own here.

    We actually met a couple from Idaho at the train station named Bill and Bobbie, who also had a handler to get them oriented. It’s always fun to commiserate with fellow Americans about the trials and tribulations of traveling in India (although we would have to say that we seem to be handling it much better than most).

    We arrived about 8:30 p.m. in the city of Agra – after dark and too late to see anything, although we did get a distant first glimpse of the Taj Mahal from our hotel balcony. Yes, this is the city where the grandest building in the world resides (in our humble opinion).

    Our hotel room looked terrific, but as always in India, things are not what they appear to be. The seemingly modern shower with its touchpad controls looked like a dream until we stepped in and realized that the water temperature fluctuated wildly on its own from scalding to lukewarm, and the water was a disgusting yellow/green color. Such are the realities of travel here.

    The next morning, we were totally psyched to visit the world famous Taj Mahal with our new Agra guide, Monika Sharma -- she was our first female guide here in India, and by far our best guide yet. Monika was everything we like in a guide: knowledgeable, smart, curious, enthusiastic, energetic, and just so much fun. She showed us the sights, but also taught my husband lots of helpful Hindi words, and told me all about Hindu weddings (which tend to last for 15 days). What a wealth of information she provided. We wanted to pack her up and bring her home with us!

    The Taj Mahal is simply the most beautiful building we have ever seen. We wondered how it could possibly live up to the hype, but the Taj was better than we ever dreamed. We arrived about 8:30 a.m. when the lighting was ideal, and it wasn’t overly crowded. It is impossible to describe the glimmering white marble and the wondrous reflection in the mirror pool in front of the building. You have all seen the pictures, but they do not begin to capture the grace and elegance of this place when you see it in person.

    Up close, the Taj was a revelation with the most beautiful floral designs created with inlays of precious and semi-precious stones. The marble itself sparkles from the crystals embedded in it, and the semi-precious stones glittered in the sun like so many diamonds.

    The Taj Mahal was created by Shah Jehan as a memorial mausoleum to his favorite wife, Mumtaz, who had died giving birth to their 14th child. The couple is buried side by side in the basement, but replicas of their caskets are on display in the rotunda located in the center of the memorial at ground level. This room has a sacred feeling to it much like a cathedral. One of the many things that make the Taj so pleasing is the perfect symmetry of every aspect of the complex. Only one thing lacks symmetry: Shah Jehan’s tomb is not quite identical to Mumtaz’s tomb – it’s bigger!

    Oddly enough, the Taj Mahal is built over a large well, an engineering design which helps makes this beautiful palace earthquake resistant. If an earthquake occurs, the Taj foundation will “float” on the waters of the well, and the destructive shaking forces transferred to the structure are minimized by the damping action of the water. This also means that the river immediately behind it is an advantage and actually part of the anti-earthquake design, since it keeps the well beneath the structure always automatically filled with fluid, protecting the Taj for eternity – or until the river runs dry.

    The details of the unusual foundation were discovered by the British when they tried to move the Taj. Yes, the Brits in a fit of arrogance during their tenure here, tried to uproot the Taj and move it back to merry old England! Anyway, happily for all, their plans failed, and the Taj remains just where it was always meant to be.

    Agra has two other places of interest as well: the “Baby Taj” and the Amber Fort. The “Baby Taj” is older than the Taj and was probably the inspiration for it. As its name implies, it is a mausoleum similar to the Taj, but on a smaller scale. Both buildings were created by Persian workers and many of the walls and ceilings look like Persian carpets, only they were formed with marble and semi-precious stones instead of cloth. Designed by a woman (Mumtaz’s aunt), this building has a delicacy that feels very feminine. The marble inlay is gorgeous here as well, especially the Tiger’s Eye stones.

    The Amber Fort is a huge place made of red sandstone that is part palace and part military installation. Shah Jehan, the builder of the Taj, was imprisoned here by his 3rd son (after a “little misunderstanding” over the issue of succession to the throne) for 8 years before Jehan died. Shah Jehan could gaze at his beloved Taj Mahal across the river, but he never entered it again during his lifetime.

    However, don’t feel too sorry for Shah Jehan -- his prison was a fabulous suite of rooms with plenty of inlaid gems, an intricately carved fountain, and a wonderful pillared balcony. Also, his seeming altruism and bereavement in building the Taj for his lovely wife Mumtaz nearly bankrupted the kingdom, and he probably deserved imprisonment for his blind waste of treasury coffers. Another interesting fact: beneath this fort lies a network of tunnels that are said to lead all the way to Delhi!

    As we were walking around taking in the sights, we heard a voice call out, “There’s Frank and Anne!” We were momentarily stunned -- nobody knows us here. Turns out, it was the couple from Idaho who we had met in the train station. Quite a coincidence to bump into two familiar faces in these crowds of tourists!

    That night we ate dinner on the hotel’s rooftop terrace. We noticed a rifle hanging on the side of the building (which was a bit alarming). Suddenly, while everyone was eating at the terrace tables, a big old monkey jumped down from one of the trees and scared the living scheiss out of all; a hotel waiter grabbed the rifle and shot the monkey! Actually, he only scared him away, but we were pretty impressed that the hotel staff goes to extreme lengths to keep its patrons safe! You never know what’s going to happen next around here.

    We left Agra after just two nights, but Monika came with us to a nearby place called “Fathepur Sikri.” Our ace guide Monika was her usually chatty self, telling us all about her brother who recently had a “love marriage” (instead of an arranged marriage that is still very common here in India). Monika told us that if she cannot find the right guy for herself for a marriage, she will let her parents arrange a marriage for her because, as she said, “then they will be responsible for the choice, not me!”

    Fathepur Sikri is an ancient fortified city built by the famous Mogul ruler named Akbar. Akbar was a pretty bright and open-minded guy – he was a big fan of religious tolerance and proved the point by marrying three women: a Muslim, a Hindu, and a Christian. Each wife had her own designated area in the palace. The Hindu wife even had her own Hindu Temple, and a kitchen that never saw a piece of meat.

    Akbar had a lot of toys: a gigantic stone platform bed that required an 8 foot ladder to reach (and a lot of cushions to make it comfortable!). He created a life-size game board (similar to chess) in the stone floor of the open courtyard – and reputedly using his harem girls as game pieces!

    Akbar also had a favorite “execution elephant” who crushed those found guilty of serious crimes. The condemned person’s only hope of a pardon was to appeal directly to the elephant –Akbar trusted the elephant’s judgment, and if his elephant hesitated to crush a person, they were free to go.

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    Loving your report - your descriptions are wonderful.

    A few comments: kudos for riding the trains! Sorry you had a bad night, but at least you got the porter story in exchange.

    Indian bathrooms: I found the bucket and pail a good substitute for the shower in really bad cases.

    Language: the use of English has really grown - interesting article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2004/nov/19/tefl - but the waiter who "forgot" his Hindi may never have spoken it, at least not as a first language, having grown up with Bangla or Tamil or Gujurathi instead. I met some people moving from north India to the south complaining because they didn't speak the local language.

    Moving the Taj - I think your tour guide was having you on.

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    thursdaysd -- Very interesting article, especially the unifying aspect of English providing a link between the north and the south -- thanks!

    You know, I often looked at that bucket and pail and was tempted to give it a try just for the experience, but I never did -- maybe next time.

    You are probably right about the Brits moving the Taj (I googled and could find nothing), but it did make for a great story at the time...

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    Re cats. We were told there are so many dogs in India that the cats stay indoors until night time when the dogs go to sleep, for their own protection. We did see some, but it was usually after dark.

    Loving your report still. Keep it going.

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    Sounds like you had terrific guides. We had one at the Taj who was very pleasant but rattled on more than I care.

    We didn't find the trains all that difficult to handle on our own. We took two of them during our stay in India, one being an overnight and one leaving at 5 AM. Did you see rats at the train stations at all? The one leaving at 5 AM from Jodphur to Jaisalmer was a real eye opener. As you described there were people sleeping all over the platform in front of the train. They were wrapped in blankets from head to toe and rats scurried around them looking for food. I couldn't wait to be out of there!

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    rhkkmk -- You know, when I first got home I was on total sensory overload and really didn't want to think about India. But now that I am settling in (and over my Delhi Belly), I am really enjoying my memories. In fact, writing this report has been a good way to relive it. And yes, I think maybe I do miss it alittle. It was always unpredictable!

    dgunbug -- Good for you doing the trains on your own! We didn't see any rats at the train station (I remember reading your trip report about all the rats you saw!! OMG) But, we did see them scurrying around the backstreets of Udaipur --that was enough for me.

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    Jaipur – The Pink City

    We drove from Agra to Jaipur, a fairly boring ride, but on the way, our driver, Rampal, was always on the lookout for photo opportunities for us: camels, elephants, monkeys, a bus with as many people sitting on the top of the bus as were inside it etc.

    Jaipur is another large city with lots of traffic and the usual mayhem. But we did see an odd sight: three men riding white horses decorated with the most ornate and colorful saddles – riding right in the middle of all the city traffic. Rampal explained that they were headed for a wedding. Apparently in India, the groom makes quite a splash by riding to the ceremony on a fancy white horse!

    The following day, our Jaipur guide, Amid, gave us the full sightseeing tour. It is easy to see why Jaipur is called The Pink City – everything within the old city walls is pink. Most of the pink color comes from the local building material, reddish pink sandstone, but even storefronts and metal garage doors are painted pink.

    First stop was the Hawa Mahal, aka the Palace of the Wind, a graceful 5-story structure with 152 windows. The sole purpose of this building was so that the royal ladies could observe the action on the main street from behind stone “screens” without being seen. The building looks like a giant peacock with a rippled roofline and protruding balconies that look like “feathers.” Once again, the peacock, the national bird of India, integrates itself into the action.

    On to the Amber Fort, a terrific site up on a mountain overlooking the modern city where we made a grand entrance on a gentle elephant named “Bowwan.” Of course, the elephant ride was ridiculously touristy, but too much fun to resist. Up to the top of the mountain we rode, nauseously rocking with every ungainly step that Bowwan strode.

    Inside, the fort/palace, a beautiful courtyard led to one of the prettiest rooms we have ever seen, the Maharajah’s Winter Bedroom. Every inch of the inner room and the pillared pavilion surrounding it was covered with convex mirrors and small polished silver devices – a sparkling sight. Amid explained that the floors would have been covered with colorful carpets and that lamps in the wall niches would cast reflections around the room, resulting in a dazzling effect like a kaleidoscope. On the practical side, the mirrors were supposed to reflect the heat of the lamps to keep the Maharajah warm during the cold season.

    We also saw the “wheel chair” used by the Maharani at festival time. Apparently, her best gowns were so heavy with gold thread and semi-precious stones that she couldn’t even walk under their weight, so she had to be pushed along specially built ramps in her rolling chair.

    Another part of the palace was specifically designed by a Maharajah who had 12 wives. His large courtyard held 12 identical apartments to house each of the women and included hidden passageways allowing him to secretly visit any wife of his choosing without the other women getting jealous. What a guy!

    We made the inevitable stop at a handicrafts shop, but actually had a good time. Shopping here in India is quite an experience. They have shelves and shelves of all kinds of textiles. If you show the slightest interest, things start flying off the shelves: scarves, tablecloths, bedspreads. One after another is spread dramatically before you, usually flipped up into the air so that it floats back to the counter. “We have many colors. If you like one, why not two or four or six?” These guys are remarkably tenacious. My husband bargained hard, so at least we didn’t feel as ripped off as usual. Unlike the Chinese who love to haggle and make it a game, many of the Indians act peeved when they give in to our price -- which only means they are mad because they couldn’t get the usual 5 or 10 times the true price!

    Our last stop of the day was at an astronomical observatory called Jantar Mantar with an open air assortment of astronomical instruments including the world’s largest sundial. My husband was fascinated by the scientific instruments, but disappointed that so many of the instruments were related to astrology. Astrology plays a major part in arranged marriages in India, so plotting horoscopes correctly was a big deal. (Today it is done via computers.)

    The following day was a “freebie day” (i.e., no tour guide) so we chose to devote it to shopping and massage. Unlike the typical tourists, we wanted to visit the bizarre bazaars. Our driver Rampal seemed quite hesitant about taking us but eventually dropped us off at the somewhat daunting Nehru Bazaar, with an expression on his face like he might never see us again. The bazaar was rough and dirty, and we were the only white faces around, but everyone was friendly, and we had a blast.

    Anne had scoped out a recommended Thai massage place called Ziva Spa. The masseuses were all Indians (Thai-trained, the manager assured us) but the place was spotless with all the amenities: soft lighting, soothing music, and nice “pajamas” to wear. Neither one of us could believe it when our hour of massage was over. What a nice respite from the craziness outside.

    Let’s take a minute to talk about what we have been drinking. (India can definitely drive you to drink LOL!) My husband’s favorite beverage is Kingfisher, the only beer we’ve seen here in India. He especially likes the hard-to-find “Kingfisher Strong” variety, which sports an 8% alcohol level kick.

    But India also offers a wonderful assortment of fruit juices including mango, papaya and guava. Iced tea and real lemonade are also good, but my favorite cold drink is something called a “lassi,” a liquid yogurt drink available in many flavors like coconut and banana -- very refreshing and good for digestion too. Another favorite of mine is Masala Chai, a hot tea made from spices like cinnamon and cardamom mixed with milk and sugar – like an adult version of hot chocolate.

    The swastika symbol is a frequent sight here in India. You’ll see it in architectural design, in paintings, and they are even painted all over trucks and tuk-tuks that you see riding down the road. Of course, the swastika is a design used in the past by many cultures, and if you ask the Indians about it, they assure you that it is not the same swastika used during WWII, but a reverse twist on Hitler’s infamous emblem. In Indian culture, this reverse swastika has always meant infinity or eternity.

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    carobb -- Bundi just happens to be next! This was my favorite spot of the trip -- what a sweet town.

    Bundi – Rajasthan’s Hidden Gem

    We drove from Jaipur to Bundi via a highway, which may sound like an improvement, but don’t take that term too literally. As the signs kept telling us, this highway is a “Work in Progress” -- a dusty, partially completed roadway with a road surface that vacillated between macadam, sand, and mud. And to make matters worse, this road was filled with hundreds and hundreds of delivery trucks. Not a pleasant drive. Even Rampal, our ace driver was getting a little rammy and almost took out a sacred cow – hate to think about the ramifications of that (in this world, not to mention the next)!

    The trucks of India are beyond gaudy! They are hand painted all over the sides, front, and back with every color of the rainbow -- the hood of the truck is usually the most colorful, but even the gas tank is often painted with colorful flowers, geometric shapes, swastikas, etc. Plus, windshields are decorated with tinsel, satiny curtains, and strands of garland making the truck look like it just ran over a Christmas tree!

    And the mirrors almost always display a string of black pompons flapping in the wind. These are supposed to act like Evil Eye charms to ward off accidents and other catastrophes (“black eyes” here in India, as opposed to the similar blue-eyed Greek evil eye charms).

    Trucks also have the words “Blow Horn” painted in big letters on the back (a request to blow your horn before passing), and sometimes a strange warning to “use dippers after dark.” We assume this is a request to use your high beam/low beam headlights; most of the time Indian drivers don’t even use their headlights until it really gets dark. They must all have a death wish!

    The hamlet of Bundi looks like a little piece of Rajasthani heaven with a manmade lake in front and a fairytale Maharajah palace cascading down the mountainside behind the town. We are staying in another heritage property, the most authentic hotel in Bundi (which means plenty of ambience coupled with basic amenities). The murals painted on the walls here are absolutely gorgeous.

    Our newest guide is Bhanwar Singh who definitely ranks up there as one of our best. He is a tall Bundi homeboy who knows every inch of this city, and he went out of his way to make sure we enjoyed our stay. In fact, he dropped by the very first night just to introduce himself. He also explained that we had arrived on the celebration of Small Diwali (will these Indian festivals never end?) which explained the firecrackers we kept hearing.

    The following day, it was another holiday, an Islamic holiday called Eid. Bhanwar showed us the wonders of Bundi beginning with the palace – a magnificent (but neglected) 16th c. edifice, high on the hill behind our hotel. The welcome gate was topped with wonderful stone elephant carvings. For entertainment, the mahouts (elephant trainers) used to get the elephants drunk and stage elephant fights in the outer courtyard while the Maharajah watched from his elegant balcony above.

    The real glory of this palace is the fabulous artwork, paintings that still sparkle even though most are in disrepair. The brilliant blue colors, made from lapis lazuli, are especially striking. One painting of the hunting lodge showed how animals would be lured to a pool of water in front of the lodge so that the women could shoot them! Nice trap for the animals, huh?

    We also visited two fascinating step wells, elaborate wells used to capture water during the monsoon season. The zigzag pattern of the steps made the wells look like geometric designs similar to the pyramids of Egypt.

    Driving through the small market, we got a look at the local dentist manning his stand with a nice choice of dentures on display. And a good selection of sunglasses as a sideline business! His wares and “shop” were spread out on a blanket an a busy intersection, alongside other merchants selling flowers, spices, and other unrelated things. We wondered who would have their teeth pulled or have their dentures adjusted right out on some busy, dusty open-air street with hundreds of motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and other vehicles just 10 or 15 feet away? Life here is sooooooo so different.

    The most charming aspect of Bundi is the small town atmosphere and the friendliness of the people. This sweet spot is our favorite destination so far. We get no hassle here, no one has their hand out for money – it is an unspoiled little gem.

    Bundi is known for miniature painting, and I got a peacock painted on my fingernail. It didn’t last long (washed off), but it was a very Bundi experience.

    Our favorite night here was dinner at the Bundi Inn where we spent the evening with our guide Bhanwar, a Dutch couple named Jan and Petra, and the Inn’s owner, Kamel. This was one of those priceless interactions that we always treasure when we travel – good fun making special connections with new and friendly people.

    One of our discussions had to do with the mystery of the cats. As you know my husband has been curious about why we never see any cats here. We got some evasive answers about how a cat was bad luck, and people are very superstitious. Apparently, dogs are good, but cats are bad. Bhanwar said that a cat would never be kept as a pet. And Kamel abruptly said, “We don’t kill cats!” But we are not so sure, given Kamel’s defensive response. Perhaps he protests too much! The cat mystery continues…

    Bhanwar took us on an outing to the nearby village of Thikarda, known for its pottery. This was another friendly village where we got to see the school children doing the “morning praise,” a call and response chanting that they do each day before starting their classes. We also met a very special farmer who welcomed us onto his farm saying it was an honor to have us visit. He had a beautiful property that he was obviously proud of, with neatly planted plots of vegetables. He gave us some fresh cauliflower right out of his garden that was so sinfully sweet; we all walked along thru the fields nibbling on this farmer’s magnificent produce.

    We have been making some progress with our Hindi, and my husband has mastered a number of basic phrases. The reaction to his speaking any Hindi at all is quite remarkable. People are literally stunned. He spoke a few words aloud in a restaurant, and a group of 6 Hindu people at the next table all whipped their heads around as though their favorite Bollywood star had just arrived on scene. They laughed as they called out, “You speak Hindi!” A few even applauded. Apparently, very few non-Hindus even attempt the language. We weren’t even sure we wanted to bother learning to speak it at first – since English is always an easier option. But now, it has enhanced the fun of being here in India.

    We want to say a few words about turbans, since we found out some neat stuff about them. We actually watched a demo of a turban winding. Man, those things are long!! Many Indians wear these long colorful ribbons of material on their heads here in India. Why? Well there are many reasons.

    (1) Originally, the color was an indicator of the tribe to which an individual belonged. But, that reason doesn’t exist anymore, since tribes no longer cavort as tribes did in the past. The turban is somewhat of a throwback to those days, and sometimes the peasants of a particular region (or family) band together and wear similar colors. (2) Some use the turban to signify religious preference; the Sikhs wear turbans always. Next, (3) turbans are devices to help keep the head cool from the 130-degree plus heat in the summer. Just think, a wad of fluff up there can insulate the skull from the blistering heat that can otherwise fry the brain. (4) Indians routinely carry stuff on their heads as they walk (pots filled with water, large wok-like bowls, bunches of sticks sometimes 10 feet long, we’ve even seen ‘em carry loads of bricks, tools, luggage, cotton bales, etc.). If they shape that turban just right, it can be used as a cushion and balancing mechanism for all sorts of portable things on top the skull. But, lastly, (5) we also learned that the turban is a strong rope that is sometimes 30 or 40 feet long; this can be a valuable tool for a resourceful Indian, who will tie a bucket to his long-reaching turban and lower it down to dip some water from a well.

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    I know you are not there yet in this travelogue, but in response to someone's question above, you say if you had to cut out some things out, one would be Rawla Jojawar. I was just reading about this and thought it looked interesting as a place out of the usual tourist route. Can you please tell me more about why you'd cut it? Thanks.

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    julies -- It would actually be hard for me to cut anything out of our trip, but if forced, I would drop Jojawar only because Narali was similar (and IMO superior). However, Rawla Narlai is more expensive than Rawla Jojawar so that is another consideration.

    Both Jojawar and Narlai offer jeep safaris and the villages are similar. I really enjoyed the village walk that we took in Narlai escorted by one of the staff where we got to enter people's homes etc. The setting at Narlai is more dramatic with a giant rock looming nearby. Jojawar has the train ride which was fun, but we were surprised by the number of tourists on the train -- not as undiscovered as we thought.

    So, it is pretty much of a toss up. I was really ready for the luxury of Rawla Narlai - it was such a treat. In any case, we really enjoyed all of our out-of-the way stops. They were a perfect compliment to the frenetic cities.

    One more thought. The owners of Rawla Jojawar have a new place called Kesar Bagh that we got a quick tour of while we were there. More expensive but looked really nice - very rural with lots of wildlife around.

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    Bhainsrorgarh – A Fort on a River of Glass

    The drive from Bundi to our next destination, Fort Bhainsrorgarh was fairly uneventful (for India). By the way, the word “garh” on the end of that word is seen a lot in the Hindi language; it means “fort”, so we were headed for the Bhainsror Fort to be exact.

    Our guide Bhanwar Singh stopped at a roadside fruit stand for some fresh guava that looked like a greenish-yellow apple but tasted like a cross between an apple and a pear. Bhanwar wanted to show us the fruits of the region, as we have never tasted guava. The pretty young Hindu guava vendor who was sitting yoga-style on her roadside table alongside her produce sprinkled a pinch of a mix of salt and cayenne pepper on some of my husband’s guava slices – man did that make the guava come to life!! Who could’a predicted guava as our new favorite fruit!

    We also visited the Baroli Temples, an off-the-beaten-track site of 9th c. temples, similar to the ones at Khajuraho, but smaller with unusual carvings and elaborate altars. The complex also included some impressive Shiva “lingams,” which are sculptures of the male sex appendage engaged with the female organ; it celebrates the joy of sexual union.

    Two pillars stand a couple of football fields away from one of the temples, and we were told that at certain times of the year (perhaps during the solstices?), sunlight travels though the two pillars and illuminates the temple altar. I am convinced that Hinduism is the last true remnant of paganism in the world. No one knows when Hinduism began, and unlike other religions, Hinduism has no known founder -- and nothing much seems to have changed over the centuries. As we were leaving, we each received a spot of yellow paste on our foreheads as a blessing (My husband just “loves” that glop on his forehead!).

    Our Bhainsrorgarh Fort Hotel is the most romantic spot yet. This former Maharajah palace is perched at the end of a promontory on a cliff 200 ft. above the crocodile-infested Chambal River. Our host, Rajveer, is a member of the royal family who owns and operates this place. Our living quarters were huge with a bathroom as large as some of our recent hotel rooms.

    And as soon as we were settled in, we had lunch on the roof under a stone gazebo. We really felt like royalty as we enjoyed the views of the river and watched the green parrots flitting around the colorful palace gardens.

    Of course, no hotel is perfect. Every hotel that we stay at here in India seems to have at least one “lucky” gecko hanging out on the walls of our living quarters. Here at the Bhainsrorgarh Fort Hotel, we have two in the bedroom and one in our bathroom. One of these geckos is rather large, and looks like he could have been around for a while. He loves to hang on the wall right above our bed, picking off insects as they seek out the lamp over the headboard of our bed. These big green carnivorous critters are of course harmless to humans and do devour a great quantities of insect life; for that we are grateful and welcome their presence. However, I am still leery of them, and just hope this one doesn’t jump on my face while I’m sleeping.

    Power outages daily are also an issue here – my husband counted 9 thru the evening and night, and those were just the ones he was awake for. But I am totally charmed by the elegance of this old palace and the wonderful service. For example, we were given our own table in a small private dining room at dinnertime. The walls held carved niches displaying old teapots and other household items -- also old photographs of former Maharajahs, each one showing the proud hunter standing in front of a dead tiger or antelope with gun in hand and foot on the poor critter (not quite so charming!).

    We lost power again just as we finished our meal. Of course, my husband, the former “Boy Scout,” had his trusty flashlight handy, but the staff had already placed candles along the way back to our room. This is very sweet, but the “servant mentality” here in India makes us feel uncomfortable – and sorry for the staff. Even the owners refer to the men who work in their hotels as “boys!” We don’t think they are being mistreated or anything. They all seem to be good natured about it, and just deal with it as a job they are lucky to have.

    “Serving” other people seems to be the prime directive. My husband secretly gets very unhappy when he’s not even allowed to pop the aluminum top on his beer or soda can here; the “boys” will bring an aluminum can over at dinner time, and they have it popped and poured into a glass before he can tell them “no, I want to do it myself!” Guess he will have to re-learn how to pull the aluminum tabs off when he returns to the states.

    The next morning, my husband was feeling a bit under the weather, so I took the recommended boat ride on the river by myself. One of the staff led me down to the water’s edge where I met the two boatmen who would man the oars to propel the small wooden boat. I had a momentary thought that I must be out of my mind, but then I hopped in the boat and we were off.

    For the next hour, I felt as if I was floating into an Impressionist painting. The lake perfectly reflected the palace and all the greenery along the shoreline – in fact, the reflections were so shimmery that I actually started to feel dizzy.

    Crocodiles are supposed to inhabit these waters, and the boatmen did point out what they said was the head of a crocodile crossing to the other side of the river, but it was hard to see. I also saw monkeys swinging through the trees, and when we neared an island in the middle of the river, about 50 large vampire bats went wild, screeching and soaring around overhead. The boatmen returned me safe and sound, gladly accepted their tips, gave me a couple of “namastes” and disappeared back onto the river.

    My husband was feeling better, so we decided to walk through the small village on our own. It was impossible to take a peaceful stroll because the town’s people acted as if two freaks from “albino city” had just rolled into town. Little kids flocked around my husband like he was the Pied Piper of Bhainsrorgarh!

    We stopped by a small grocery store to pick up a couple items, and when we turned around, a crowd of over 30 town people had gathered behind us just to see what we were up to. Everyone was friendly enough, but it gets to be pretty draining when the whole town is gaping at you, and we were happy to escape back up the mountain to our isolated palace.

    Now we want to give you some straight talk on cow manure. My husband proudly considers himself somewhat of an expert on this topic; since he grew up around a farm, he is no stranger to a cow patty. But even he has never seen cow dung raised to the peculiar reverence it receives here.

    Raw cow manure is smeared on the front step surface of each country house for good luck. Maybe for more practical reasons, we think it might also give the home owner a place to wipe off his muddy shoes for more foot traction when entering the home; Bhanwar told us that it even keeps the mosquito population down. And a carefully swept cow dung kitchen floor is a real point of pride in a home.

    Cow dung is even a source of artistic expression. Women create colorful patterns in their front yards. Initially, I thought these were sand paintings, but of course, as we found out, they are “dung designs.” We even observed cow excrement “fancifully” reshaped and decorated with little white flowers – pointed out proudly to us by a young man who acted as if he was showing us a sculpture by Rodin! We guess that since the cow is a highly sacred animal in India, any cow “byproduct” is considered sacred, too. Either that, or some here might have a little too much time on their hands.

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    I was also curious about Jojawar for the same reasons as julies.

    Narlai looks gorgeous and I haven't read a bad thing about it. We watched "The Darjeeling Limited" a few nights ago on tv and I recognised Narlai in the film. Like you julies, I'll probably stick with Jojawar as it fits better into my budget. I'm considering Dungarpur as a possible alternative to Narlai...

    Magster I'm still really enjoying your report and can't wait to hear all about your experiences in Jodhpur...

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    carobb -- Bundi really is special -- see it if you can. We also had some of our best meals there. I especially liked Bundi Haveli - great food, service (we loved our waiter, Mac), and a wonderful view of the palace from their rooftop terrace.

    I will have to take another look at "The Darjeeling Limited!" We watched it before we left, but I missed seeing Narlai.

    Just one more thought regarding Narlai (and accomodations in general). In India, you can really mix it up in terms of your accomodations. Overall, we averaged less than $100/night, but we had a mix of the very cheap (as low as $35/night) and the expensive. So, instead of just looking at moderately-priced places (which I would normally do) you can go with the extremes.

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    Udaipur – City of Romance

    Touted as the most romantic city in India, Udaipur enjoys a marvelous location on the edge of a manmade lake (another Maharajah project) surrounded by the ancient Aravalli hills. With a sparkling white Lake Palace that “floats” in the middle of the lake (the James Bond movie, “Octopussy” was filmed here). Our hotel room was a stunner with a “jharokha,” a fancy, cushioned window seat jutting out over the water that I immediately fell in love with.

    But before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to tell you about a stop we made on the way to Udaipur at Chittorgarh Fort. The guidebooks call it the greatest fort in Rajasthan (Rajasthan is the largest province in India), even though it was sacked three times. Each time all the men died in battle, and the women self-immolated themselves “to avoid losing their purity,” making this place more tragic than great in our minds.

    The fort included the ruins of the palace complex (sacked, according to our guide, by “the Arab fanatics”), an artificial lake where the royal ladies once swam (accessible by a private passageway), a temple with some more erotic sculpture, and an interesting 37 m. victory tower that is actually wider in the middle that at either end.

    Plus, another floating palace where the beautiful Maharini Padmini (try saying that 5 times fast) once drove a Sultan crazy with desire for her love. This Sultan was obsessed by stories he had heard about her beauty, so finally Padmini agreed to let him have a glimpse of her reflection in a mirror, hoping that would satisfy him. However, the sight of her only inflamed him more, and the Sultan captured the fort and killed all the men. Of course, he never did get his hands on Padmimi -- she self-immolated herself too, along with the other women of the palace.

    Our guide at Chittorgah was a lovely young Indian woman named Parvati, and we ate lunch at her family’s “haveli” (bed and breakfast) along with a French couple who were also touring the fort. The French couple was very friendly, and we were thrilled to practice speaking some of our “rusty” French with them. But the real story about this lunch is a tale we like to call “Parvati’s Meeta” (meeta is the Hindu word for sweets).

    Lunch was a simple affair, but the real pleasure was the experience of being a guest in Parvati’s home. We met her little boy who was running around naked, wearing nothing other than a narrow leather cord tied around his waist (typical of little Indian boys). Remember the Jains – the extreme religious group that even gave up wearing clothes? When her little boy first appeared, Parvati said, “He’s like the Jains!”

    Her son carried a box of “meeta” (sweets) – 2 cruller-like pastries and 2 candy rolls – and he was fingering the treats (and himself as little boys do). We just figured they were his box of goodies. Imagine our surprise when the exact same box of sweets appeared on our luncheon table for dessert. I looked over at the French couple (I couldn’t risk looking at my husband), but no one said a word. And NO ONE touched the “meeta!”

    As lovely as it was, Udaipur was a difficult place for us because my husband was sick with the “Delhi belly,” and I was heartsick over some sad news from home. That’s the one thing about traveling – you really don’t want to get bad news when you are on the other side of the world. As a result, we took it easy with more down time than usual. However, we did take some prearranged tours beginning with the City Palace.

    The City Palace is Rajasthan’s largest palace, built over time by 20 some Maharanas . The terms are confusing but here in Udaipur they prefer the title Maharana which means warrior king (supposedly even better than Maharajah). The palace was made up of colorful, sumptuous rooms (in typical Maharana fashion).

    We even bumped into the current Maharana as we exited an elevator there in the palace! We didn’t recognize him but knew something was up because our guide looked like he was going to faint when he doubled over into a major bow. We saw an official portrait of the Maharana later, and verified that it was definitely him. The glory days of the Maharanas may be over, but these guys still get tremendous respect.

    My favorite palace sights were the mosaic peacocks, each one made from 3,000 pieces of glass, and the Crystal Gallery. This gallery displayed the never-used crystal furniture purchased by a Maharani in 1877 from the renowned English cut glass manufacturer F & C Osler. The Maharani died before the stuff arrived, and it was never even removed from the packing boxes for 110 years.

    What a decadent display this was (unfortunately no photography allowed) – sofas and chairs (all with crystal frames and deep red cushions), a foot stool that looked like a giant prism, and a bed with an amazing crystal headboard.

    Another highlight of our stay was a cooking class at “The Spice Box.” Shakti, the owner and teacher, spoke decent English, had a good sense of humor, and did a remarkable job of instructing the class. This class was only partially hands-on, but each of us got to do some of the cooking. Shakti clearly explained each step, especially the preparation of the spices that required boiling the spices in oil and water until the water evaporated. Spices are the key to Indian cooking and superheating the spices enriches the flavor. Our only problem with Shakti was that he also operates a spice shop, and naturally, we all ended up buying a bunch of spices from him at the end of class.

    One of the things we missed most in India was the ability to wander around. We are accustomed to walking 6-8 miles a day when we travel, and in India, we were lucky to get in 3 miles per day! So, we decided to take a walk through the backstreets of Udaipur.

    Well, as lovely as Udaipur looks down by the lake, the rest of the city is typical India. Raw sewage was running through water channels in the backstreets, and several rats ran across our path. We walked only about 3 blocks, and that was enough of a walk for us!

    I had my palm read by our guide, and I am still trying to figure out if it was worthwhile or just a hoax. Some of the comments were insightful, but others were just plain wrong. Like everything in India, nothing is clear.

    On the last night of our stay in Udaipur, we ate our best meal of the trip at “Ambrai,” a wonderful restaurant on the far side of the lake where we had an incredible view of our hotel, the City Palace, and the “floating” Lake Palace. Unfortunately, my husband was still on the bland food diet, but I ate a fabulous meal of paneer (condensed cottage cheese cubes) served in three different sauces. We even drank a small bottle of Sula Sauvignon Blanc, the leading (and probably only) name in Indian wine.

    A few notes on booze in India. As stated, there is only one wine brand name that we ever saw. That is a wine called “Sula”, which comes in both white and red but is quite expensive. And there is also just one beer in this country that we were able to uncover: “Kingfisher” beer. It’s a lager beer, and not bad at all, but no other options. This was a bit surprising to us since some research turned up the fact that India is the 3rd largest user of liquor in the world, right behind the United States and Russia. Guess they must go for the hard stuff!

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    I am enjoying reading your report. I've been to northern India, but not to some of the places you visited, so I am really learning a lot about the places I missed. Thanks for posting.

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    "One of the things we missed most in India was the ability to wander around. We are accustomed to walking 6-8 miles a day when we travel, and in India, we were lucky to get in 3 miles per day!"

    This is a recurrent refrain I keep hearing about India and its cities. And, this disappoints me, and is steering me much more in the direction of rural India and smaller towns (of course I suppose these are just as grubby), because we too are those who don't just scurry from site to site. We typically wander and enjoy the ambience. And, I've also read that a lot of time your walk can turn into a constant being pestered experience.

    Great report! If you could detatch yourself from your husband's illness and your sadness, where would you rank Udaipur in terms of the other locales you visited?

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    So sorry that your husband suffered from Delhi Belly while in India. I had such a bad case that I couldn't get out of bed for a week after returning home. Luckily I got it as we departed India (a parting gift!). I'm surprised that your husband was able to handle a cooking class while feeling so badly.

    We walked around quite a bit throughout our travels in India, but certainly not the amount that we are accustomed to, which is similar to you. Our problem was the heat.

    Your report is so informative and I am enjoying learning details that I did not know when we traveled to India.

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    I am loving the detail in your report, magster2005. You have incredible recall of details....did you keep notes as you travelled?
    Loving your takes. You obviously enjoyed your trip to India.

    A comment about wine in India. There was a TV segment on 20/20 type show about a year back. An Indian entrepreuner made his millions at a young age, sold the business in USA, and then was looking to do something with the rest of his life...and chose to become a winemaker...in India. Found out there were no wineries in India to buy...started learning the business in France at the lowest level. Eventually, researched soils in India, was told by experts not to "waste" his time and money...climate and soil was not right...went ahead anyway...and the result is Indian wine, for the first time ever. And supposedly,by many accounts, it's a decent wine.

    RE:Chittorgarh story. My, how the ideas about sexual purity have changed over the years. And for the good!!

    Story about cow dung....once it dries, it is actually self disinfectant. In fact, everything from a cow is usable, cows are clean animals. Is it any wonder that the cow became a revered animal...in India.(Leave it to the religious priests to make them sacred...over time). Cows give milk, bulls were/are used for agriculture, leather is used for shoes/purses, cow dung is fuel, beef for others etc.

    Hinduism is a way of life...it is actually based on two epics...Mahabharata & Ramayana...which are stories of real life king Rama, and Krishna, and tell a tale about the great battle between good and evil. Later people started talking about them as divine, hence the religious aspect. These epics predate all other current religions...the story books are detailed (you'll like them LOL) and each set of epic books will fill all 4 sides of a good size room from top to bottom. However, because they are huge, lot of confusion exists today, because nobody has the time to study and understand even one of the volumes.
    Now my take on all this...over time, priests have exploited the true teachings of these epics...ritualised the stories...call of money has reduced it to meaningless stuff (Isn't all religion about grab for money, and who can sell a story to the public under the guise of morality? Sorry, but I digress. Too cynical?). If you look closely, stories from the Mahabharata & Ramayana are found in almost every subsequent religious book. For example, end of the world is predicted in Hinduism and other religions. Hinduism actually divides life on Earth into 4 phases, and WE are in the 4th phase now. The end is NEAR...scary. No time is given, just phases.

    Interesting that you picked up on the story about Brits trying to move Taj....they did give up on that...but did take all the jewels from the Taj..."Kohinoor" diamond is now part of Queen Elizabeth's crown. It used to be on the tomb of Shah Jehan at the Taj.

    Keep it coming...awaiting next segment.

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    I agree that the lack of walking opportunities is a turnoff. We're thinking about a trip to India in the fall (much shorter than both of yours), and are seeking walkable cities as well as rural places where we can go on short treks. Haven't begun serious research yet, but this report has been excellent for general ambiance, as well as a superlative snapshot of the day to day experience.

    Looking forward to your Narlai report - we might want to stay at a place like that for several days.

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    Wow, I am loving all these comments!

    julies -- Udaipur is lovely and definitely one of my favorite cities in India. I would say that it was the most beautiful city we visited. I was surprised to discover that I would also rank Jaipur high on the list -- I thought all the sights there were terrific.

    dgunbug -- Luckily neither my husband nor I got violently sick (as I know you did), but I'm not sure that we are totally recovered even now 2 weeks later. We've been saying, "India keeps hanging on!"

    magical -- My husband and I both keep journals that we write in every night. It's a habit we started years ago. We both enjoy doing it (helps us process what we saw that day), and it's our source for details later on.

    I wonder if the wine entrepreneur you saw on 20/20 was the one who makes Sula? Here is a link to the histoy behind Sula wine: http://www.dreyfusashby.com/family.php?id=48

    Thanks so much for your thoughts on Hinduism -- very interesting!

    crosscheck -- As you will see when I post the Narlai report (coming up next), Narlai was a village that we really loved walking around. And I know there are trekking opportunities -- up to the top of the rock for one, and also out to the step well.

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    The maker of Sula wine might have been the one on TV....he is described as the first winemaker in India...and seems to fit the description.
    He has started a new industry in India.

    When we were in Goa about 6 years back, staying at Taj Cottages, there was a welcome booth set up on the lawn for guests of Vijay Malia, owner of Kingfisher beer (and Kingfisher airline). He had booked half of the rooms at the hotel for his guests who had come to his birthday bash at his mansion next door to the hotel. Every morning at breakfast we heard stories about the birthday party...it was a 3 day bash...with performers like Lionel Richie and others performing. It was an interesting time...in addition to the weddings every night at the hotel.

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    dgunbug -- No we didn't get to either one. And I really wanted to go to the step well (you are talking about Abhaneri, right?). The step well architecture is so remarkable -- we loved the ones we saw in Bundi.

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    I tried Sula wine several times and was not overly impressed with the whites. Can't speak for the reds. One night I had a choice of Kingfisher beer or a Sula white, and me the wine lover, opted for the beer. I guess that says something about it.

    Udaipur was by far our favorite city also.

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    ""Kohinoor" diamond is now part of Queen Elizabeth's crown. It used to be on the tomb of Shah Jehan at the Taj."

    The Mughal emperors having looted it in their turn from one of the native Hindu princes, who in turn had looted it...

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    kmkrnn -- I did try both the red and the white Sula. I am more of a red wine drinker, but I actually preferred the white. Either wine was so expensive (especially for the quality) that, like you, we pretty much stuck with Kingfisher.

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    Narlai – Our Rajasthan Retreat

    We made two major stops after leaving Udaipur: Kumbalgarh Fort and Ranakpur Temple. Kumbalgarh Fort was the most impressive fort we have visited so far, probably because of its isolated location way up in the mountains. The fortress consists of about 25 miles of impregnable walls enclosing hundreds of temples and palaces. We had no guide here, but we enjoyed wandering around the picturesque site on our own.

    Our second stop was even better – the Jain temple at Ranakpur. This white marble edifice is a forest of 1,444 pillars all carved with exquisite designs. The ceilings were even better carved with a delicate, lacy look.

    The head priest of the temple latched on to us right away and gave us a brief tour. He also gave us a lengthy blessing that included the usual Indian wish for wealth and prosperity. Of course, he was also concerned about his own prosperity and requested an immediate donation. I convinced my husband that $2 for a blessing was a good thing especially since admission to the temple was free. And besides, when will we ever have the opportunity to be blessed by a Jain priest?

    My favorite carvings were a ceiling design that combined the “om” symbol with a half moon, and a figure with one head and 5 bodies. This sculpture represented the need to control the 5 senses before entering the temple.

    Our new hotel, Rawla Narlai is a little bit of heaven – totally luxurious with gorgeous gardens, a rooftop terrace, and a huge pool (perfect for swimming laps). All situated at the base of a massive rock. This rock became my husband’s nemesis because he really wanted to climb up to the large white elephant statue sitting tantalizingly on the summit, but we just didn’t have the energy.

    That night, we ate a candlelit dinner on the roof terrace where waiters fell all over themselves taking care of us, and live music created an eerie-sounding background out there in the middle of nowhere.

    Two staff members took a particular liking to us: Umaid and Lala (we are not making these names up). I think we could have eaten breakfast all day long – they kept offering to bring us more toast, butter, and what about some more tea? My husband tried to sign on to the netbook while I wandered around the gardens. When I looked back, Umaid was holding up a cloth napkin trying to reduce the glare from the morning sun on the netbook. Later, my husband walked up on the terrace to gaze at that rock above us, and of course, “the boys” were on him in a second. Soon, Umaid and Lala had goaded my husband into trying on each of their turbans while they took pictures of him. This is really too much!

    The resort offered a complimentary outing to a nearby lake for afternoon tea. This was a fun ride in an open jeep; it was like a mini-safari. We saw numerous birds including a turquoise blue Kingfisher, and lots of peacocks in the wild! The lake was very pretty, especially as the sun started to set, and our jeep driver supplied us with hot masala tea along with muffins and brownies for an added treat.

    Our favorite Narlai activity was a 2-hour village tour with Lala as our guide. Our tour began at a temple built inside the huge dome-shaped rock – the rocky mountain actually consists of layers of rock, and this temple was built into a crevice. The temple contained a metal sculpture of a cobra, and Lala told us that during festivals the people bring in a live cobra, milk it, and drink the cobra milk!

    Lala took us into several village homes giving us the opportunity for a closer look at village life. We met a shoemaker, a seamstress, and a woman who was grinding wheat into flour for the village. The most memorable home consisted of three rooms -- the middle room designated for the cow! Lala also pointed out the nicely swept dirt floor that was a mixture of dirt and dried cow dung (these people sure love their dung!).

    My most memorable moment came when I got to join several local women who had congregated on the front steps of one of the homes. These women were a trip! They kept slapping my leg (hard) – like they couldn’t believe how hefty it was LOL.

    But the main focus of the conversation was on jewelry. The older woman pointed to the younger woman’s necklace and said something in a stage whisper that I assumed must have been the price. I acted suitably impressed, and before I knew it, the old lady had wrapped the necklace around my neck (and pulled it tight – almost like a garrote!). Of course, my husband was having a ball taking pictures. It really was an unforgettable experience.

    As we strolled about town, my husband’s big moment came later when he spotted a tiny barber shop; really, it was just a small, outhouse-sized metal box on the edge of a busy street that was big enough for the barber to stand, a customer to sit, and some primitive barber tools. From a distance, my husband carefully watched this “Edward Scissorhand operation” for a while, and decided it was a good time to cast fate to the wind, and get his hair cut. The barber was very meticulous, and he not only cut my husband's hair but also trimmed his beard and moustache, and topped it all off with a lengthy head massage -- all for $1.

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    As I'm loving your report, I just had to re-read your trip report from China. I'm curious how you compare the two trips. China will be our adventure next year. Although my husband was less reluctant to do a 4th trip to Asia without a break in between, the price of travel to Europe has convinced him to further explore the Asian continent!

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    We too used to be Europe die-hards, but we too have been venturing in different directions in the past 4 to 5 years specifically because the dollar is so weak against the euro. And, knowing how we approached those European trips, zeroing in on a smaller area for a more in-depth experience is making planning for India really difficult because I am trading off the way I know we prefer to travel--slower and more quality--for trying to see many different places. I honestly just don't know if we'll return to India the way we have to Europe (western, central and eastern) time after time, and that is why I am trying to get a tste of several different regions.

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    dgunbug -- It's tough to compare India with China. We thoroughly enjoyed both, but the experiences were quite different. China was worlds easier to do on our own; no difficulty there. However, China does not come close to India in terms of being exotic. I might give the Taj the edge over The Great Wall, but both were spectacular. Beijing and Shanghai are both fabulous cities that are easy to wander on your own. I would go with China for food (never got sick!) and offered more variety. India for accomodations since we stayed in so many lovely heritage properties (but beds are hard in both countries LOL). Sorry, I am kind of babbling here. Not sure if this helps -- both are topnotch destinations.

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    Jojawar – Land of the Raj (Landlords)

    We drove just 2 hours to our next stop, another small out-of-the-way town with another heritage hotel, Rawla Jojawar (Royal Jojawar). This hotel was more basic that previous hotels, but still walled and insulated somewhat from the bustle of local activity; it was a nice respite from the real world. (It’s not easy to follow an act like the last place, the Rawla Narlai!)

    We got a real Rajasthan welcome from a drummer who announced our arrival with an energetic drum roll. And, the manager sprinkled flower petals over our heads as we walked thru the arched gates of the hotel. I loved that!

    We had two small but fun activities planned in Jojawar: a jeep tour of this rural area, and an old-time train excursion in an old-time train! The jeep tour was conducted by the owner of the hotel, a genuine Raj (landlord) and landowner of properties all around the area of Jojawar. We visited a really nice farm where my husband, the former farm boy, got to relive some memories of his youth growing up on the farm. They grow lots of cotton here and also castor plants (to make castor oil). The land is dry, and it would be desert, were it not for the plethora of wells designated for irrigation.

    We saw lots of monkeys here – in fact, one of them jumped right on top of the jeep’s rear roll bar and sat there for several minutes! We also visited the home of some gypsies who travel to wherever work is available. And we stopped at a temple that was memorable mainly for its large population of rats. The trees were full of rats as darkness began to take over.

    It was well after dark by the time we drove back to the hotel, and we were amazed how the back roads seemed to come to life after dark. Lots of cars, motorcycles, and people just sitting along the road in total darkness. The Raj told us that the people sitting in the dark were “waiting for someone.” Could be, but sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? It is pitch black along these dirt back roads, yet people sit there seemingly idle along these roads, or tend cattle there in total darkness, or do who knows what(?).

    The next day, we were driven to a train station to catch our old-time train back to Jojawar. We were surprised to see how many tourists were waiting for the train with us. Apparently, this excursion has become quite popular. The train excursion was fun as we rode through desert conditions and mountainous terrain on this rickety local train. We enjoyed the scenery and riding with the locals. In fact, a group of 4 locals sat with us and we chatted in broken English and Hindi as we sped along. Lots of warm but fuzzy conversation – not sure there was total comprehension on either side, but lots of good feelings.

    The train stopped several times for “brake checks,” and once to feed the monkeys who were panhandling along the side of the tracks. These monkeys know exactly when the trains come thru and gather by the tracks to eat the biscuits everybody throws out the train windows. All the train windows had bars, and when we saw how aggressive these monkeys were, we knew why.

    We ended our day with a full body ayurvedic massage – a stimulating deep massage to increase circulation and encourage relaxation. Certainly relaxed us!

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    Jodhpur – The Blue City

    Jodhpur was a fairly routine (at least routine to us now) 4-hour drive away. We stayed at Ratan Villas with lovely owners (descendants of a Maharajah) and very spacious accommodations. Jodhpur is known as the Blue City because of the many blue buildings in the old city. Interestingly, one of the main industries here in Jodhpur was opium (used only for pharmaceuticals today). BTW, we are on the edge of the Great Thar Desert, the 10th largest desert in the world. Ever hear of it? Neither did we! Supposedly, one of the reasons Indians like bright colors so much is because of the dull brown colors of the desert.

    Our guide named Ragu (spaghetti anyone?) led us on a walk through the downtown markets that felt a little like “been there, done that” -- until the bullfight. Two young bulls had literally locked horns right in the center of a pedestrian street. We didn’t fully understand the danger until Ragu hustled us into one of the shops. These bulls were raging! We realized that these thousand pound plus creatures could pin us up against a building or a stone wall in an instant, and that was why we were hustled inside to safety. Finally, some brave soul threw a pail of water on the bulls to cool them off, and they ran after each other down a side street. Whew! Almost like running with the bulls in Pamplona LOL!

    The next day, we toured Mehrangarh Fort. We honestly thought we might be all “forted out,” but we totally enjoyed this marvelous site and the excellent narration on the accompanying audio guide. The fort was built in 1459 by the founder of Jodhpur, Rao Jodha, who was the original leader of this region called Marwar (Land of Death). Sounds sinister, but the name is fitting when you hear how many warriors died here in various battles.

    From the hilltop where the fort resides, we could see the city of Jodhpur below. Many of the buildings were colored a light blue, hence the name, the “Blue City”. The color blue is supposed to make the buildings feel cooler in the extreme heat of the summer, and it also repels the mosquitos.
    The fort was a delightful feast of graceful architecture with many colorful rooms like the elaborate dancing hall with giant Christmas balls hanging from the ceiling (we see these everywhere and learned that they were adopted from the British). The fort also included several museums with displays of howdahs (elephant seats) and palanquins (covered carts to carry royal women so that they remained hidden from view).

    Another museum contained dozens of royal cradles exquisitely decorated – many with guardian angels poised to protect the young royals. Astrology is extremely important in India and every child must have a chart drawn to know what pitfalls to avoid. Having an astrological chart drawn is as important here as cutting the umbilical cord!

    There were two very tragic sights at the fort. The first concerned a hermit who was evicted from this site when Rao Jodh decided to build a fort here. The hermit cursed Rao, and to obviate the curse, Rao required a human sacrifice. Some guy volunteered and was buried alive in the foundation of the fort (a plaque marks the spot). To this day, an annual ceremony commemorates his sacrifice and his descendants continue to be honored.

    The second tragic sight is the “sati” marks, handprints of the Maharajah Man Singh’s many wives who climbed on to his funeral pyre in 1843. They left their handprints in henna (a colored dye used to decorate the palms of the hands) on the wall of the fort as they passed by in a procession that would lead to their deaths. Later, the little handprints were carved into orange stone. They say these women sat calmly as the flames engulfed them, anxious to be reunited with their beloved husband. Those women must have been doped up on some serious opium!

    This is a good time to talk about the status of women in India. I can tell you from personal experience that men are definitely top dogs here. Every morning, the hotel staff would rush over to my husband saying, “Good morning, sir!” “How are you, sir?” “Would you like breakfast, sir?” Even our driver Rampal constantly opened the car door for my husband leaving me to fend for myself. And when I took the lead in a conversation – discussing where we were headed next, or what activities were planned for the day, the Indian men would get a perplexed look on their faces as if they were thinking, “Why is she talking?” These are small irritations but indicative of how women are viewed here.

    For many years, Indians followed a custom called “purdah,” the practice of concealing women to “protect them from the lustful gaze of men -- an idea that came from the Arab invaders. This is why palace after palace contains stone screens so that women can get a (fractured) glimpse of the world without ever being seen.

    A Maharini once visited London, but she remained hidden from view. She was always transported in a curtained car and a covered palanquin. As you can imagine, the English press went wild trying to get a photo of her, but all they got was a glimpse of her ankle. The Hindu royalty was so furious about this photo of their Maharini’s ankle that they bought and destroyed every single issue of the newspapers that would have exposed her ankle to the world.

    Even today, some of these crazy ideas continue. Remember Parvati from a previous report of ours - The “Parvati’s Meeta” story? Parvati wore several bangle bracelets on her arms and ankle bracelets that tinkled as she walked. She told me that she lived with her extended family, and that the women tended to stay in one part of the house. Parvati’s bangles and ankle bracelets were noisy enough to warn the men of the house to leave if they heard her coming. As Parvati explained, “That way I am never alone with my brother-in-law, so there are no problems.” It’s as if there is an assumption that no man can resist or restrain himself around a woman, so the only answer is complete separation of the sexes.

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    Did you notice how few woman were out in public? At times my husband and I felt awkward to be strolling around in an all male area. Woman are definitely isolated, even today.

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    I know what you mean. I often felt uncomfortable or at least very aware that I was in the minority. I even had some young men who kept following us around and staring at me. My husband thought it was funny, but it made me uneasy (what young guys stare at an almost 60 year-old woman?) I think it was just that they had never seen a western woman before. They finally asked to have a picture taken with me, I complied, and then they went on their way.

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    The Brits outlawed sati, much to the disgust of the Indians. There are still occasional cases of women committing sati - one was turned into a saint by the locals. Unfortunately, the lot of widows in India is pretty awful. Also unfortunately, another old custom, child marriage, is still in existence. And then there are the dowry murders...

    "the Indian men would get a perplexed look on their faces as if they were thinking, “Why is she talking?” " - I am a solo female traveler. I'm sure that attitude was behind the consistent trouble I had getting my Indian drivers to do what I wanted.

    I did notice more women wearing non-traditional dress when I was in India last year, and I think attitudes may be better in the south, where Muslim attitudes had less effect.

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    Okay -- final update:

    Delhi – Back to Delhi and Back to the USA

    Our flight leaving Jodhpur for Delhi was delayed for over an hour. Of course, we had no idea what was going on since the announcements were unintelligible and there was no English signage of any kind in the airport. The flight was a dream when it finally arrived; a flashy new turbo prop high wing ATR-72/500 took us from Jodhpur to Delhi in little more than an hour. We were so happy to return to Amarya Haveli Hotel in Delhi where we got a warm welcome from the familiar staff who remembered us from our previous visit.

    The next day we revisited the Hauz Khas Village for some final shopping. And, we visited one last sight: “The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets!” Seems fitting somehow. You may wonder how I came up with this one, but the museum is listed in Lonely Planet. It was actually quite fascinating, and let’s face it, human waste is a major problem here in India (and around the globe).

    We got a tour of several outdoor toilet and septic configurations, all geared to using local materials for construction. We learned about their efforts to filter polluted water for reuse -- for flushing toilets, irrigation, and other non-drinking purposes. And how they extract methane gas directly from the outhouse to produce electricity or to cook food on the stove. We noted that this system is not quite perfected yet, as there is the distinctive smell of methane, which smells strangely like burning poop… Inside, a small museum room held all kinds of interesting info about the history of toilets along with some hysterical pictures and posters.

    Now we are back home – yes, back in the good ‘ol U.S. of A., but the sights and sounds of India continue to dance in our heads. We started this Trip Report by saying that many people think India stands for “I’ll never do it again.” We don’t fall into that camp although it will take a while to work up to a return trip (LOL!).

    Instead, we would say that India stands for:

    I = intense
    N = needy
    D = draining
    I = intoxicating
    A = astonishing

    India is definitely not a destination for everyone. It was a challenge even for us who consider ourselves to be seasoned travelers having visited other 3rd world countries. We thought we’d already encountered a bit of everything, but India proved us wrong.

    And yet, we are so glad that we came. India is without equal, and without a doubt one of the most unusual, confounding, but alluring places on earth. Our trip here required us to employ all of our acquired travel skills -- and brought us as close to traveling thru time as anything we have ever done.

    One thing is definitely true: every one of the human senses will be tested to the max by exposure to India. The colors, the smells, the extreme poverty, the heat, the plethora and variety of animals, the religious anomalies, the traffic, the smiling friendly people, the lack of amenities, and the frenetic passion of the country will stay with us for a long, long time. To steal a phrase from Winston Churchill, India is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

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    Tips

    Here are a couple tips for those of you who are planning a trip to India:

    - If you have sensitive eyes, bring lots of eye drops. My eyes went crazy with the dry air and the air pollution. VisineA was a lifesaver.

    - Bring Chapstick and plenty of body lotion to combat the dryness.

    - Bring flashlights and keep by your bedside in case of power outages.

    - Bring (or buy) a cheap pair of sandals to wear when the bathroom floor is wet (due to open showers)

    - Bring a small flask of whiskey to clean eating utensils

    - Before you go, add some Indian mediation music to your MP3 Player – very calming for long car rides (I love “Ayurveda” by Kiran Murti that I bought on Amazon)

    - My favorite souvenirs were the wedding gift envelopes and wedding gift bags that I bought in Hauz Khas Village in Delhi. They are inexpensive but so beautiful – the envelopes are perfect for gift certificates, and the bags can be used to store sweaters or scarves. All the women in my family are getting a gift bag with a scarf inside. I can’t find her business card, but the shop owner is named Happy, and she is located on the main shopping street in Hauz Khas (you will see the colorful purses, bags etc. in the window).

    - Other fun items to buy: A turban for my husband and a sparkly tunic top for me. We also picked up all kinds of cheap wedding goods: leis, bindis (stick-on dots for the forehead) etc. One of the alleyways in Jodhpur was lined with shops selling wedding decorations. We wore our outfits and decorated for an Indian-themed Christmas party with our kids. We served some Indian food; the kids and grandkids all wore the leis and the bindis. We had a ball!

    If you would like to see pictures, we just finished our blog. The text is pretty much the same as these reports, but we also interspersed some pictures. Here is the link: http://supsictravelsindia.blogspot.com

    Thanks for all the supportive comments. And for those of you headed for India, we wish you an astonishing adventure!

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    thursdaysd -- When we were in India, I often wondered what it would be like to be a solo woman traveling there. Not easy, I would think. I applaud you for the trip that you took!

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    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowry_murder - it's wiki, but it has the basics and some good-looking links. The bottom line being that the groom's family thought the bride's dowry was insufficient and she wound up dead, allowing him to marry again. (You are aware that the vast majority of marriages in South Asia (and in some South Asian immigrant families abroad - it's an issue in the UK) are still arranged, and still involve dowries, right?)

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    thursdaysd -- Thanks for the link! I knew about the dowries and I now remember hearing the term bride burning, but I didn't really know what it meant. I had no idea the numbers were so high -- absolutely horrifying. And that whole concept of having to live with the groom's family and do the bidding of the groom's mother...

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    dgunbug -- I'm sorry it has come to an end, too -- was a great way to relive our trip! For our next trip, we are renting an apartment in Paris for a month in the spring -- have to get a dose of France every so often.

    Really not sure about the fall. We have relatives in N.Z., so we may visit them along with some Australia (Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth). Maybe with a South Pacific stop thrown in also. I would also love to visit Turkey and/or Bulgaria & Romania. Isn't it true that the more you travel, the more you want to see?

    I know you are planning a trip to China. I think you will really enjoy that. One place I highly recommend (you probably saw in my trip report) is Pingyao, such an enjoyable smaller city.

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    On the subject of India and women, I just saw this link to a report called "India's Deadliest Secret:"

    http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/indias-deadly-secret-estimated-40-million-girls-have-gone-missing-india-2020-15126835

    The report discusses the disappearance of 40 million girls (before or after birth) mostly because of the dowry system that makes girls a financial burden. This is just Part 1 of a series that also touches on concerns for the future regarding gender imbalance.

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    If you haven't yet read in, put this excellent and highly readable (don't let the title turn you off in to thinking it is too esoteric and academic) book on your reading list. It doesn't just cover India but also the conditions of women in other developing nations.

    Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by NYTimes columnist Nicholas Kristof.

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    Forgot to ask you Magster. I know you said you'd go back to India, but not really soon. What part of taking a month loong trip do you think was just too much? Were you just on the sight-seeing go too much, or was it just the fact that this is India?

    As far as your desires for other places: Romania is still one of our all time favorites even though it has been more than ten years since we visited. Go to the Maramures area to really step back in time. Turkey is another favorite we long to return to . There we limited ourselves to 3 areas--Istanbul, Cappadocia, and the southern coast for a ways straight south of the area of Cappadocia. Coastal Turkey was our least favorite part of the three locales, and in many ways and many places the Turks have sold their souls for the sake of commercialized beach resorts. We want to return to visit Eastern Turkey and the Black Sea coast. Bulgaria is on my must-visit list too.

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    Magster - what a shocking news report. It certainly explained the lack of men on the street which was so obvious. Thank you for providing this link.

    As for China, we definitely intend to go to Pingyao. After reading your report and others, we have decided against just doing the standard travel itinerary to China.

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    julies -- Thanks so much for the feedback on Romania! When you visited 10 years ago, the country would have been very undiscovered. I definitely want to go there, either in 2012 or 2013.

    And for your thoughts on Turkey. Your comments confirmed my feelings that we should stay clear of the coast -- except perhaps for Ephesus.

    Regarding India, I feel better about the length of the trip now than I did when we first got home. However, India is wearing. At about the 3-week mark, I noticed that we started to get tired of the cows, the dirt etc. If you go for a long trip, you might want to consider buidling in some real downtime to recharge.

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    on turkey, i think you are fine on the coast as long as you do not go any further east than anatalya in the south.

    we went to romania about 3-4 years ago, click on my name to find my trip report... it was interesting but i would not put it in the top 10 locations..

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    We spent 3 weeks in Turkey about 5 years ago. We rented a car and enjoyed it immensely. The coastal/mountain route is one of the prettiest we've ever driven on and if you like ancient ruins, you will not be disappointed. The beaches are lovely and the people were very friendly.

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    Magster - I agree with julies about Maramures in Romania, and would add Bucovina. Despite having a "tour guide from hell" I really enjoyed Romania, and keep meaning to go back and see more. TR at http://wilhelmswords.com/eur2006/index.html - includes Ukraine, which I would also recommend, especially Lviv.

    I just got back from a trip that included Bulgaria - see http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/the-b-trip-part-two-serbia-and-bulgaria.cfm

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    thursdaysd -- Thanks so much for the links. Loved your blog! My husband, who speaks Russian, wants to go to the Ukraine so discovering that they primarily speak Russian there is a huge plus for us.

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    Cool that he speaks Russian, and I loved visiting Ukraine, but be careful! Language is a big issue there, and while they speak Russian in the Crimea and the east, they speak Ukrainian in the west. I managed with English, but I think German might have been more useful for a non-Russian/Ukrainian speaker.

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    My husband always talks of going to the Ukraine - back to his roots. I didn't think there was much there to see. I'll have to explore that as a future trip.

    With regard to turkey, there is so much more on the coast other than the resorts and the ruins are incredible.

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